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updated 5/26/2004 3:42:14 PM ET 2004-05-26T19:42:14

Three young men were charged with first-degree murder in the death of a motorist who was struck by a large rock dropped from an Interstate 75 overpass in eastern Tennessee.

Matthew J. Carter, 19; Jeremy D. Kelley, 22, and Alford Morgan, 21, each were charged with first-degree murder by use of a destructive device, a charge that could carry a life or death sentence if convicted.

"On this particular (legal) section you don't have to prove intent," John Gill, special counsel to Knox County District Attorney Randy Nichols, said Wednesday.

But prosecutors will have to prove the 10-pound, bowling ball-sized rock that fatally hit passenger Barbara Weimer, 69, around 1:40 a.m. Monday was a lethal device or weapon.

"A stick of dynamite would clearly be a device, but whether a rock is a device is a different issue. So we will just have to wait and see," Gill said.

Prosecutors are a long way from deciding what punishment they might seek. "We don't know without looking at all the background," Gill said. "There are a number of factors that make it eligible for either death or life without parole, as opposed to life. We are just not at that point yet."

Kelley and Carter are from Knoxville and Morgan is from the neighboring community of Heiskell. They were being held on $250,000 bond. Kelley and Morgan face a preliminary hearing June 4, Carter's hearing is June 24.

A fourth suspect _ apparently an unidentified 18-year-old male also arrested Tuesday _ was being held without charges, Gill said.

Knox County Sheriff Tim Hutchison has said the four were out for a night of fun and mischief. The incident occurred in north Knox County.

"They were out ... doing things they shouldn't have been doing," the sheriff said. "They were vandalizing things and tearing things up and destroying things and it just escalated to the point where they wanted to throw some things off the overpass."

One of the suspects confided to an aunt, who called police, Hutchison said. The suspects led authorities to a white minivan seen by witnesses on or near the overpass.

Inside the minivan, authorities said they found bricks and rocks, some nearly identical to the rock that struck the sport utility vehicle in which Weimer was riding.

Weimer, her daughter and son-in-law were returning from a graduation exercise in West Virginia when the incident happened about a mile from their home exit.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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