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Jury Deliberates Evidence Against STEM School Shooting Suspect

The suspect, now 20, accused of killing a classmate at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado faces life in prison.

(CN) --- A 12-person jury began deliberations Monday on more than 40 felony charges, including first-degree murder, levied against a Colorado man accused of committing a mass shooting at his high school in 2019.

Devon Erickson, 20, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole since Colorado repealed the death penalty in 2020.

Authorities say that on May 7, 2019, Erickson, then 18, and accomplice Alec McKinney opened fire in a British literature class at the STEM School Highlands Ranch, wounding eight and killing senior Kendrick Castillo a week before graduation.

McKinney pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, among other charges, and was sentenced in July 2020 to life in prison plus 38 years. Because he was 16 years old at the time of the shooting, McKinney may be eligible for parole after 40 years.

Throughout Erickson's three-week trial, his defense team argued McKinney coerced him into the attack. Prosecutors and McKinney's testimony refute this claim.

“McKinney says ‘I’m not doing this alone,’ that’s what you tell a partner,” Brauchler said, quoting text messages McKinney sent to Erickson before the attack. “He never says ‘I’m doing this with or without you,’ or ‘I’m going to kill everyone in the office.’ He said, ‘We have it all planned out.’”

Testimony from students who witnessed the attack painted a picture of three students charging Erickson when he pointed a gun at his class and said, “Nobody fucking move.”

Erickson’s defense claimed he fired the gun as an involuntary physiological reaction as he was charged.

“To believe the defendant, you have to believe a couple of things,' Brauchler said. "You have to believe Kendrick Castillo is responsible for his own death. You have to believe that if Kendrick Castillo didn’t charge him, if he and Josh Jones and Brendan Bialy had just sat in their chairs, then the defendant would have pointed the gun said, ‘Nobody fucking move,’ and then ‘Everybody run!’”

Brauchler added: “The truth is, there were supposed to be more deaths in this room. We were supposed to be in here talking about 25 dead.”

Last week, McKinney told the court that according to their plan, after he and Erickson killed everyone in the classroom, he planned to commit suicide to allow Erickson to emerge as the hero.

In his closing argument, defense attorney Dan Kaplan emphasized the court’s instruction for the jury to convict Erickson only if they believed him guilty "beyond reasonable doubt."

Kaplan asked the jury to remember “Devon’s condition, his drug addiction and intoxication,” and to consider a lesser charge of reckless manslaughter over first-degree murder.

“We read about shootings in schools, in public places, all too often. We think, ‘Why does something like that happen?’” Kaplan said. “It doesn’t make sense, even with Mr. Brauchler’s one specific road leading to the end — it doesn’t make sense.”

He continued, “Is there a plan? Is there a manifesto? No. There were random, bizarre, off-the-rails communications between Alec McKinney and Devon Erickson.”

After less than two days of evidence from Erickson's defense, the trial ended nearly two weeks ahead of schedule. A representative for the prosecution reported presenting 213 exhibits and calling 61 witnesses.

The court did not indicate how long the jury would deliberate, except to say they will deliberate until they’ve reach a verdict.

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Categories / Criminal, Trials

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