Youthful offender hearing again rescheduled for Vincent murder suspect

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

ASHLAND – A 21-year-old Vincent murder suspect is now set to appear in Clay County Circuit Court in late May after a judge agreed to continue his youthful offender hearing originally scheduled for April 20.

Bunner

Bunner

This marks the third time the youthful offender hearing has been rescheduled for Loren Daniel Bunner, who has been charged with shooting and killing 18-year-old Vincent resident Jolee Callan in Clay County in August 2015.

Clay County Circuit Court Judge George Simpson originally was set to decide during a March 23 hearing if he would grant youthful offender status to Bunner, but agreed to reschedule the hearing until April 20 to allow more time for a mental health evaluation of the suspect.

According to Bunner’s attorney, Gregory Varner, the suspect “may suffer from Asperger’s syndrome.”

“The existence of a mental disorder is certainly relevant to the defendant’s eligibility for youthful offender status,” read Varner’s original request to continue the hearing until April 20. “A medical determination of disorder is specifically relevant for a youthful hearing adjudication. If Asperger’s syndrome is present, there is a greater possibility of misinterpretation of behaviors and characteristics typical of those with Asperger’s syndrome since these behaviors and characteristics could be misinterpreted as evidence of guilt, indifference or lack of remorse.”

Since then, Varner said Bunner “has recently been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome by (psychologist) Dr. (John) Goff.”

“The defendant’s witness, Dr. Goff, is unable to attend the hearing that is set for April 20, 2016, and his testimony is important to the defense of the defendant,” read a court document Varner filed on April 19.

As a result, Simpson agreed to continue the youthful offender hearing until Tuesday, May 24, at 9 a.m. at the Clay County Courthouse.

If he is granted youthful offender status, Bunner would waive his right to a trial by jury, and would be tried by the court without a jury. Bunner also would face a less-severe range of punishments if he is granted youthful offender status.

Bunner’s Aug. 31, 2015, arrest came one day after the sheriff’s office received a report of a homicide on the Pinhoti Trail in Cheaha State Park in Delta.

If found guilty as an adult on the murder charge, Bunner could face up to life in prison. The maximum sentence for youthful offenders is three years in jail.

After searching the area, sheriff’s deputies discovered Callan’s body. Callan, a 2015 graduate of Vincent High School, was shot and killed with a .22-caliber Ruger Bearcat revolver, deputies said.

In addition to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, the Oxford Police Department, Cleburne County Sheriff’s Office, Jacksonville State University Forensics, U.S. Forestry Department agents, Cleburne County Search and Rescue and Clay County Search and Rescue assisted in the investigation of the crime.

Bunner was released from the Clay County Jail on Sept. 16, 2015, after posting a $150,000 bond.