Lawyer for school gunman suggests shooting was accident

June 15, 2021 GMT

DENVER (AP) — A lawyer for one of the teens accused in a fatal attack at a suburban Denver high school in 2019 suggested Monday that he accidentally shot and killed a student who rushed him after being manipulated into participating by the other gunman.

During closing arguments in the trial of Devon Erickson, David Kaplan told jurors the shooting that killed Kendrick Castillo, 18, unfolded without a plan and happened only after Erickson, sent by a teacher to the nurse’s office because he looked pale and sick, was threatened into returning to the targeted classroom by his alleged accomplice, Alec McKinney.

The prosecution disputed that the killing of Castillo and the wounding of two other students who also tackled Erickson and struggled to get his gun was accidental but, even if it was, said that Erickson would still be responsible for Castillo’s death.

Prosecutors also stressed that Erickson and McKinney attacked a classroom filled with only Erickson’s classmates as they sat in the dark watching a movie at the end of their senior year, entering through separate doors to maximize the number of students they could kill and removing magnetic strips on the doors to prevent anyone from leaving.

“They created a kill box. No one was going to get out alive,” Chief Deputy District Attorney George Brauchler said.

Eight others in the classroom at STEM School Highlands Ranch were also wounded in the shooting.

Prosecutors allege that Erickson and McKinney planned the shooting together and concocted a “victim-hero” strategy in which McKinney would either kill himself or be killed by Erickson — a plan they say the gunmen tried to bolster with faked Snapchat videos before the shooting.

Those plans were stymied after Castillo and two other students rushed Erickson and McKinney was apprehended by an armed security guard, prosecutors said.

The defense, meanwhile, described McKinney, who pleaded guilty last year, as schizophrenic and unreliable, saying he was the sole source of the “victim-hero” plan.

A defense expert, toxicologist Wanda Guidry, testified that Erickson had become such a chronic drug user that he likely “couldn’t think, concentrate or understand” events around him on the day of the shooting.

Erickson, now 20, was 18 at the time of the shooting. Since he was an adult, he could face life in prison without parole if he is convicted.

McKinney will become eligible for parole because, at 16, he was a juvenile at the time of the attack.