Des Moines Killer Heading To Trial For 1st Degree Murder

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After more than eight years, Leemah Carneh appears headed for trial on four counts of aggravated first-degree murder in one of the most brutal crimes ever in Des Moines.

Carneh, who was 19 at the time, is accused of killing Richard and Jane Larson, 63 and 64, their grandson Taelor Marks, 17, and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Josie Peterson, in the Larsons’ home in March 2001. Peterson was a cheerleader at Evergreen High School when she was killed.

King County Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson, following a competency hearing that took place over several weeks, ruled that Carneh is mentally fit to stand trial. He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic not long after his arrest.

Carneh was arraigned on the four counts of aggravated first-degree murder immediately following Robinson’s ruling.

According to police investigators, Carneh allegedly gunned down Marks’ grandparents, hid their bodies, then waited inside the house for Peterson and Marks and brutally beat them in an ambush when they came home. King County prosecutors allege that Carneh was obsessed with Peterson, who didn’t know him.

He was arrested at his home two days after the killings. When police searched Carneh’s house after the killings they found a photo of Peterson, a ring belonging to Marks, luggage with the Larson’s name on it, a stereo from Marks’ car, a handgun – and bloody clothes.

Despite this evidence, criminal proceedings were delayed while Carneh was treated for his mental condition at Western State Hospital. On several occasions, he was returned to the King County Jail only to be sent back to the hospital when it was determined he still was not mentally competent to participate in his defense.

If convicted, Carneh will face life in prison without the possibility of parole. King County prosecutors decided earlier not to seek the death penalty.

In late 2005, he received a civil commitment to Western State when another superior court judge ruled he still was not competent to stand trial but under state law no longer could be held on the criminal charges.

One year later, prosecutors were notified by officials at Western State that Carneh’s mental condition has improved to the point that he no longer needed constant supervision. They also said he was eligible to earn permission to leave the hospital grounds. At that point, prosecutors re-filed the murder charges and requested a new competency hearing for Carneh. But it took another two and a half years with a new treatment regime before he was finally found fit to stand trial.

No date for his trial has been set. 

Shortly before the original murder charges against Carneh were dismissed, Taelor’s mother Lorraine Marks said, “It’s unbelievable to me. He wrote the book on how to commit murder and get away with it…. I’m furious with the system.”

When the charges against Mr. Carneh were dismissed in 2005 and he was sent from the King County Jail back to the mental treatment facility, prosecutors said it was unlikely, even if he never went to trial for the murders, that he ever would be free again.

But late last year, prosecutors learned the defendant had made enough improvement to be unsupervised and perhaps even leave the grounds of the institution.

 At that point, they re-filed the charges of aggravated first-degree murder against him.

 Yet now, he again has been found mentally unfit. Western State staff believe additional treatment alternatives can help Mr. Carneh become competent so he finally can stand trial.

And once again, his defense attorney is trying to block that move since previous attempts at treatment have failed.

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