Prosecutor: Messages show teen plotted SC school shooting

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Prosecutors who want a teen to serve a lifelong prison sentence for killing a first-grader on a South Carolina school playground showed a judge cellphone videos and messages Tuesday that they say demonstrate he planned the crime.

Jesse Osborne pleaded guilty last year to two counts of murder for killing the boy at Townville Elementary School and shooting his father three times in the head so he could steal a pickup truck to get to his old school in September 2016.

The judge in Anderson County is deciding Osborne’s sentence. The now 17-year-old, who was 14 at the time of the slayings, faces anywhere from 30 years to life without parole.

Judge Lawton McIntosh will consider factors such as Osborne’s age and maturity at the time of the crime; his family and home environment; the circumstances of the crime; whether he knew his rights and could deal with police and prosecutors; and the possibility of rehabilitation.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling banning mandatory or arbitrary life sentences for teens who commit serious crimes requires the special hearing .

Prosecutors opened the hearing with more than 1,000 pages of Instagram and Skype messages, some discovered after a hearing where a judge decided he could be tried as an adult in February 2018.

Osborne’s online group, which called itself “Project Rainbow,” studied school shootings and encouraged each other to attack schools. They debated whether it was better to shoot at an elementary school or middle school, settling on the elementary school because there was no on-campus police officer.

Other videos had Osborne showing the handgun in his father’s nightstand that he would use in the killings and Osborne combing his hair three hours before the elementary school shooting, saying “got to have your hair straight when you’re going to shoot up a place. Got to look fabulous.”

Osborne kept up a Skype video call with members of the group open as he crashed his father’s truck into a fence at the elementary school he once attended and fired at children waiting to go back inside. Jacob Hall , 6, bled to death from a wound to his leg.

“I can’t stop hearing gunshots and the kids screaming and Jesse screaming. I’m freaking out,” one girl typed into the Skype chat according to testimony from Anderson County Sheriff’s detective McKindra Bibb who analyzed the cellphone.

Osborne also did internet searches on school shootings in places like Columbine, Colorado; Sandy Hook, Connecticut; and Virginia Tech. He kept on his cellphone a screen shot of a collage of some of the 20 first-graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, Bibb said.

Before the shooting, Osborne told the group on Skype “god, if I get over 70 kills, I’ll be satisfied,” Bibb testified.

Videos on Osborne’s phone included one taken by his mother of him shooting a semi-automatic rifle while family members watched and a video he took of him firing plastic pellets at dogs.

A jail detective testified officials found a hole in the wall of Osborne’s cell last month and charged him with escape. Under cross-examination, Nathan Mitchell said Osborne knew his cell had a camera in it and the 9-inch (23-centimeter) hole was in a wall that the teen likely knew led to the cell next door

“You could stick a head into it,” Mitchell said. “But you wouldn’t get very far.”

In earlier hearings, defense attorney Frank Eppes suggested Osborne was bullied by other children and had a drunk, uncaring father and a poor home life.

Eppes has also said Osborne has done well in the structured environment of the juvenile prison, is remorseful about the killings and deserves a second chance even if he’s middle-aged when he’s released from prison.

The one defense witness Tuesday was Jean Claycomb, part of a volunteer program that ministers to teens in jail.

Claycomb followed up on testimony from Osborne’s teachers in jail who said he has earned his high school diploma, was a good student and took a big interest in the Bible and Christianity after a judge ruled he could be tried as an adult in February 2018. If tried as a juvenile, Osborne could have only been kept in jail until he turned 21.

After that decision, Osborne “seemed to take responsibility for what he had done and really express remorse for what he had done. That impressed me a great deal,” Claycomb said.

Osborne also pleaded guilty to three counts of attempted murder. Two other students and a teacher suffered minor injuries in the school shooting.


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