Ex-player: I killed coach because I thought he was the devil

Ex-player: I killed coach because I thought he was the devil

Published Feb. 16, 2010 12:00 a.m. ET

A tearful former football player told Iowa police that he repeatedly shot his high school coach because he believed him to be a devil who turned students "into dead people," according to an interview with the murder suspect recorded just hours after Ed Thomas' death.

The scratchy, muddled audio recording of 24-year-old Mark Becker's confession was played to a packed Butler County courtroom on the second day of his trial for first-degree murder. Becker has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Prosecutors say Becker calmly walked into the weight room at Aplington-Parkersburg High School on the morning of June 24 and killed Thomas in front of a group of teenage students.

"I put one in his head, then I put two more in his head, then I put one in the knee," Becker said in the recording of his interview with Division of Criminal Investigation agent Chris Callaway less than two hours after Thomas was shot dead. "I emptied the clip and left it empty."

Dr. Jenni McLemore of the State Medical Examiner's Office, testified that Thomas suffered four gunshot wounds to the head, another to the knee, one that went through his left hand and a shot that grazed his chin.

As McLemore spoke, prosecutors put up pictures of Thomas' body using a projector. The coach's grown son, Aaron, sitting in the courtroom, grimaced and held his head in his hands.

Callaway testified that Becker said during the interview that he felt "no guilt or shame" about the slaying, although he had cried as he confessed to the killing. Becker's voice trembled at times during the recording.

Becker told Callaway that as he approached Thomas, his former coach turned and greeted him. "And I shot him," Becker said, adding, "It's a great thing. It's so good."

The suspect has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and his attorneys have said that they will try to show he is a paranoid schizophrenic who had not taken his prescribed medication the night before the shooting.

Public defender Susan Flander moved to have the charges against Becker dropped after the jury was dismissed Tuesday. Flander said the audio recording showed Becker was incapable of premeditation.

District Court Judge Stephen Carroll denied the motion.

In the interview, Becker spoke in a monotone about why he had wanted to kill Thomas, the 2005 NFL High School Coach of the Year who led efforts to rebuild Parkersburg after a huge tornado wiped out about one-third of the town and killed six people in 2008.

"He's a devil, he's a devil tyrant, he's suppressing the kids out here," Becker said of Thomas on the recording. "We can hardly breathe at night. He comes through and he turns us into fish and he turns us into animals and he turns us into dead people. He won't let us be our heavenly selves. He's been doing it forever."

Becker said that after the shooting he told the students present that they were free. Six students who witnessed the shooting have already testified.

"You go in there and kick him if you want to, but you're free. I said, 'Be free,' Becker exclaimed. "It's done, it's done, it's over."

During the interview, Becker told Callaway that he saw the devil, "a horned beast," in the room with them.

Craig Kalkwarf, a school custodian and Becker's former neighbor, said he saw Becker just before the shooting, and that he had seemed happier that morning than he had for months.

Carl Bessman, an Iowa DCI criminalist and weapons expert, said the caliber of bullets found in Thomas matched the type of gun Becker possessed when he was arrested. He was unable to find an exact match because the bullets were damaged.

The prosecution rested Tuesday. Defense lawyers will begin presenting witnesses Wednesday.