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Man to be sentenced in Iowa coach's killing

IOWA CITY, Iowa - The attorney for a man facing a life sentence for the slaying of a nationally known Iowa high school football coach maintains her client was insane at the time of the shooting.

Mark D. Becker, 24, was convicted last month of first-degree murder in the June 2009 shooting death of Aplington-Parkersburg coach Ed Thomas. Becker is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday in court in Allison. He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that Becker shot Thomas and that Becker suffers from a mental illness. But they disagree on whether his delusions were so severe that Becker was unable to tell right from wrong when he shot Thomas in the school's makeshift weight room.

His attorney, public defender Susan Flander, has asked for a new trial, claiming Iowa District Court Judge Stephen Carroll misdirected the jury by not including instructions she requested that had specifics about the evidence necessary to determine whether Becker was insane. In her motion filed last week, Flander also reiterated the defense claim that Becker was insane at the time of the shooting.

Prosecutors said in response to Flanders' motion that her requested instructions were flawed. They also reiterated their position at trial: Becker was sane when he shot Thomas because he was able to plan and practice the shooting before he acted.

The shooting was especially shocking to Parkersburg residents because Thomas was known both for producing winning teams and for leading the community.

Becker told police that Thomas was Satan and that the coach had been tormenting him. Four mental health experts testified during his trial that Becker suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

Jurors deliberated for 24 hours over four days before rejecting Becker's insanity defense.

Carroll said he will rule on Flander's motion Wednesday morning. If it's denied, he plans to proceed with sentencing.

One of the instructions Flander wanted read to the jury said, "Insanity need not exist for any specific length of time before or after the commission of the act."

Another said the jury has "nothing to do with punishment." It came up during the third day of deliberations, when jurors sent a note to Carroll asking, "What would happen to Mark Becker if we find him insane?"

Carroll responded in a note that jurors "need not concern yourself with the potential consequences of a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity."

The question of why Becker's delusions focused on Thomas remains unanswered. Thomas last coached Becker some six years before the shooting and Becker had spent significant time away from Parkersburg.

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 people 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.