A jury in Allison, Iowa, yesterday found Mark Becker guilty of murder in the shooting of a nationally known high school football coach.
As the verdict was announced, Becker 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 in June 2009, then kicked his body before walking away.
Jurors deliberated more than 24 hours over 4 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.
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.
After the verdict, the Thomas and Becker families - who attend the same Parkersburg church - said they would pray for each other.
Thomas amassed a 292-84 record and two state titles in 37 seasons as a head coach - 34 of them at Aplington-Parkersburg High School - and coached four players who have played in the NFL. He also was a leader in rebuilding Parkersburg after nearly one-third of the 1,800-person town was wiped out in May 2008 by a tornado that killed six people.
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