Des Moines Killer Pleads Guilty, Gets Life For 2001 Slayings
On Tuesday (Nov. 17th), Leemah Carneh, the man accused of murdering an elderly couple and two teens at a Des Moines home in 2001, pleaded guilty to murder.
Carneh, 28, pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated first-degree murder with a firearm for the brutal killings. These charges carry a mandatory life sentence, which King County Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson imposed following the plea.
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.
As we reported previously, Judge Robinson, following a competency hearing that took place over several weeks, ruled in August that Carneh was 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 Robinsonâ€™s ruling.
According to police investigators, Carneh allegedly gunned down Marksâ€™ 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 didnâ€™t know him.
He was arrested at his home two days after the killings. When police searched Carnehâ€™s house after the killings they found a photo of Peterson, a ring belonging to Marks, luggage with the Larsonâ€™s name on it, a stereo from Marksâ€™ car, a handgun â€“ 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.
After prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty, Carneh will now face life in prison without the possibility of parole. 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.
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 ever 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.â€¨â€¨ At that point, they re-filed the charges of aggravated first-degree murder against him.â€¨â€¨ 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.