By Dirk Lammers
MADISON, S.D. — A 73-year-old South Dakota man accused of fatally shooting his long-ago classmate will plead guilty but mentally ill to a second-degree murder charge, his attorney said Tuesday.
Defense attorney Scott Bratland said during a pretrial motions hearing in Madison that Carl Ericsson has been examined by a psychiatrist but that an affidavit has not been finalized.
Ericsson is scheduled to be arraigned May 15.
Ericsson is charged in the Jan. 31 killing of retired Madison High School teacher and track coach Norman Johnson. Johnson was shot twice in the face after answering the door at his house in Madison.
An arrest affidavit suggests the incident might have been sparked by a decades-old grudge stemming back to when Johnson and Ericsson were students at Madison High. No new details emerged during Tuesday's court hearing.
Lake County State's Attorney Kenneth Meyer said after the hearing that he could not comment on motive or evidence while the case proceeds. Bratland was not available for comment.
Ericsson pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge in February and requested a jury trial. That charge can carry the death penalty if prosecutors choose to pursue it. The second-degree murder charge to which Ericsson is to plead guilty carries a mandatory punishment of life in prison.
Meyer was asked after the hearing whether the plea agreement was acceptable to Johnson's widow, Barbara.
"I can't speak for her. I can tell you we talked to her," he said.
Barbara Johnson and two daughters attended Tuesday's hearing but declined comment afterward.
Meyer said that even though no official action happened Tuesday it was important for Johnson's family members to get the update on the case.
"Talk is cheap, but when it's said in the courtroom, it means a little more," he said.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press