CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — Devon Erickson was found guilty Tuesday of all 46 counts that he faced in the May 7, 2019, STEM School shooting in Highlands Ranch, including first-degree murder in the death of Kendrick Castillo.
"We’ve had tears of sorrow. We’ve had anger over a couple of years," John Castillo, Kendrick's father, said. "Today, we have tears of joy. As we heard those read off, for every person, it was a release. It was truly a blessing to hear that justice was served."
Defense and prosecuting attorneys presented closing arguments on Monday afternoon in the trial of Erickson, who faced charges in connection to the shooting of Castillo and eight others. The jury then began deliberation Tuesday morning before reaching a decision just a few hours later.
At the trial, multiple students testified that Castillo was the first person to lunge at Erickson when he entered their classroom with a gun. Castillo died from his injuries.
Mitchell Kraus was shot in the back that morning. He survived and has dealt with pain and anger over what happened.
"It's infuriating to see other people not to be able to have the freedom that I do," Kraus said. "Kendrick's never coming back. John and Maria (Castillo) will never see their kid again and that's gut churning."
Erickson will have a sentencing hearing on September 17, but he already faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Kraus said he will have one thing to say at Erickson's sentencing hearing, "Sayonara".
Opening statements took place on May 27, and the prosecution rested its case on June 10.
Erickson pleaded not guilty in January 2020. His trial was originally scheduled for last year, but it was delayed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He faced 46 counts including:
- Two counts of first-degree murder
- One count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder
- 31 counts of attempted first-degree murder
Erickson, who was 18 at the time of the shooting, was eligible to face the death penalty because he was charged before it was eliminated by Colorado, but prosecutors decided not to seek it.
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The prosecution's case worked to undermine claims that Erickson was a victim forced into involvement in the deadly shooting out of fear and intimidation. Meanwhile, the defense also has been trying to make the case Erickson did not intentionally fire any gunshots that day.
Two years after the shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch, Chief Deputy District Attorney George Brauchler called for 12 jurors to bring justice and find Erickson guilty on all charges.
"There is no evidence, zero evidence, of fear," Brauchler said. "There is only evidence of a willing partnership."
Brauchler argued Erickson was not coerced by co-defendant Alec McKinney to participate. Brauchler claimed the evidence shows the two of them were partners.
"They both said their mutual plan was to kill as many as people, and then claim that the defendant would be a victim hero," Brauchler said.
Last week, Mckinney testified that the two of them planned for weeks before carrying out the shooting, specifically targeting Room 107.
According to other testimony during the trial, Erickson pulled the trigger four times. The prosecution said Monday one of those bullets killed Castillo as he lunged at Erickson.
Erickson's defense team claimed this was not a partnership. Instead, they said their client was manipulated by McKinney.
"And he recruits," said David Kaplan, a defense attorney. "And he recruits him because he is on a mission. He knows what he wants to do."
Kaplan said Erickson did not plan this out with McKinney and said on that day, his client actually wanted to find a way out.
"Having a panic attack, couldn't breathe, sweaty, pale, blackened around the eyes," he said. "This isn't participating in the plan. This is trying to get the strength, trying to figure out a way to get out of it."
Co-defendant McKinney was one of the last witnesses for the prosecution in the case against Erickson.
He testified over two days about events leading up to the shooting including that the plan that day was that he was going to die. When asked how he was going to die, he said that the plan was for Erickson to kill him, after killing everyone in the classroom.
McKinney also testified that the two had discussed blaming the shooting on him.
During cross examination, the defense team questioned McKinney about his story changing from the day of the shooting. Attorney Julia Stancil noted that the version of events he told in court didn't come up until nine months after the shooting during an interview with prosecutors.
"So, nine months into your incarceration, you just suddenly don’t have voices in your head anymore?" Stancil asked.
"It was nine months of me being sober, yes," McKinney replied.
The defense suggested that he was changing his story to take advantage of a special program that could grant him early release.
The program applies to certain offenders convicted as adults for crimes committed when they were juveniles, but those with serious mental health issues are not eligible.
McKinney pleaded guilty in February of last year to the following charges:
- First-degree murder for the death of Kendrick Castillo
- Conspiracy to commit first-degree murder after deliberation
- Six counts of attempted murder after deliberation
- Attempted murder extreme indifference
- Second-degree assault
- Conspiracy to commit arson
- Conspiracy to commit burglary
- Conspiracy to commit criminal mischief
- Possession of a weapon on school grounds
- Possession of a handgun by a juvenile
- Two crime-of-violence sentence enhancers
He was sentenced to life in prison but will be eligible for parole after 40 years due to his age at the time of the crime.
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