Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Iowa jury convicts man in coach's death

ALLISON, Iowa (AP) — Mark Becker stood passively Tuesday as a jury found him guilty of murder in the shooting of a nationally known Iowa high school football coach.
He seemed far removed from the man whose mind was filled with images of angels and horned demons who lurked in the shadows of every room, telling him that the community was plotting against him and that Aplington-Parkersburg coach Ed Thomas — known for his winning record and town leadership — was Satan.
Becker, 24, had explained to psychiatrists that after months of torment, he shot Thomas at least six times in the high school weight room, then kicked his body before walking away.
Jurors deliberated more than 24 hours over four days before convicting Becker of first-degree murder, rejecting his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The guilty verdict carries a mandatory life-in-prison sentence.
Minutes after the verdict was read, Becker’s mother, Joan, comforted a crying relative sitting behind her.
“It’s OK,” Joan Becker said. “Just pray he gets the right medication.”
Details of Becker’s mental state emerged during the 14-day trial held in tiny Allison, about 150 miles northeast of Des Moines.
Jurors heard from defense attorneys that Becker’s delusions were so severe that he didn’t know right from wrong when he shot Thomas. Psychiatrists testified Becker believed invisible forces were pushing down on his eyes. Police interrogation videos showed him sitting alone, speaking to no one, swatting at the air.
Prosecutors acknowledged that Becker suffered from a mental illness, but said that he also coldly calculated the killing, taking practice shots with the .22-caliber pistol he used to kill Thomas and lying to people in his search for the coach.

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