Man guilty of murder in case of Iowa prep coach

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.

Golf

* John Daly has been suspended five times and cited 21 times for not giving his best effort, according to a 456-page rap sheet kept by the PGA Tour that is now public record because of a libel lawsuit Daly failed to win. The disciplinary file grew to 456 pages over 18 years of Daly's career.

* The Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where nearly 300 media gathered last month to report on Tiger Woods' first public appearance since confessing to affairs, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

Philly File

* Former Dobbins Tech star Linda Page is the subject of a biography titled, "Love, Pain & Passion . . . The Heart of a Champion.'' Page scored 100 points during a Public League game in February 1981 and later played at North Carolina State.

Sport Stops

* The NFL Pro Bowl will be played before the Super Bowl when it returns to Honolulu next year. The Hawaii Tourism Authority and the NFL announced that the game will be at Aloha Stadium on Jan. 30, the Sunday before the Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas. The Pro Bowl had historically been played in Honolulu the week after the Super Bowl, but was changed when the all-star game moved to Miami this year.

* Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said he is confident the start of the season will not be affected by a potential strike. The league's first collective bargaining agreement expired Thursday after the sides twice extended the 5-year deal, which originally was to have run out Jan. 31. The MLS players union failed to match league management's no-lockout pledge with a no-strike offer. Garber said he expects an agreement to be reached before March 25, when the Union plays at Seattle in the MLS opener.