Butler County Judge Timothy McCune seemed sympathetic to concerns about the health of an elderly Connoquenessing man accused of killing his grandson. But still, the judge said that under the law, Larry Karnes must stay in the county prison while awaiting his trial.
Karnes, 76, has been at the prison without the possibility of being released on bail since his arrest Sept. 28. Then, prosecutors allege Karnes shot and killed 19-year-old Austin Riddell with a .22-caliber rifle following an argument at their house on Sunset Drive.
The defendant reportedly claims he was holding the gun to scare his 200-pound grandson, and the shooting was an accident.
Karnes’ defense attorney Terri Schultz on Tuesday asked McCune to set a bail for which Karnes could post and leave prison while awaiting trial.
“Frankly, I’m worried about his health,” Schultz said in court, stressing that her client has had two heart bypass surgeries.
She also noted that Karnes has no previous criminal convictions and that he spent more than 20 years working after serving in the Air Force during the Korean War.
And Schultz noted to the judge that the county district attorney’s office is not seeking capital punishment. Tuesday, when Karnes also was formally arraigned by McCune, was the deadline for prosecutors to request to seek the death penalty. Prosecutors did not do so, Schultz said.
But Assistant District Attorney Mark Lope opposed the request to set a bail. He countered with an in-court argument to the judge that first-degree murder is still on the table.
Under a general count of homicide, a jury could chose to acquit or convict the defendant of first-, second- or third-degree murder or voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.
Although Lope stressed that the jury would be the ultimate decision maker, he said circumstances of the case could allow jurors to infer the shooting was premeditated and intentional, therefore supporting a first-degree murder conviction.
If a jury convicted Karnes of first-degree murder, he could face a life sentence.
And for that reason, McCune said, “That’s not a bailable offense... My hands are tied here.”