DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. – A judge on Friday sentenced Alec McKinney, the juvenile suspect in the May 2019 STEM School shooting, to life in prison with the possibility of parole following a day of emotional testimony from people who were at the school that day and from McKinney himself.
Judge Jeffrey K. Holmes handed down the sentence Friday afternoon after a day-long sentencing hearing. He sentenced McKinney to life, with the possibility of parole, for the first-degree murder after deliberation charge for the killing of Kendrick Castillo.
He also received 16 years in prison to run concurrently for seven attempted murder charges, 14 years for a conpsiracy to commit first-degree murder charge, and several years in prison for other charges. The 14-year sentence runs consecutively, as do some others, bringing the total charges to 139 1/2 years, with 38 years running consecutively to his murder sentence.
McKinney, 17, pleaded guilty in early February to more than a dozen felonies, including first-degree murder, in connection with the shooting, which happened May 7 last year at STEM School Highlands Ranch just three days before seniors were set to finish high school.
Castillo, 18, was killed in the shooting and six other students were wounded. Court documents released last summer gave the most detailed account of how the shooting unfolded and what has happened in the months since the shooting.
The court heard hours of emotional testimony from students and teachers who knew Kendrick, and some who knew McKinney, regarding why they felt like McKinney deserved the maximum sentence.
Since McKinney is a juvenile, he was not eligible for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. He faced a potential sentence of life with the possibility for parole after 40 years plus 407 ½ years.
But under state law, he could become eligible for parole after around 28 years in prison, 18th District Attorney George Brauchler said in court Friday.
McKinney's alleged co-conspirator in the shooting, Devon Erickson, pleaded not guilty in his case in January. Erickson's attorneys have argued that McKinney forced Erickson into the shooting, though prosecutors said evidence showed that was not the case.
Erickson’s trial is set to begin on Sept. 28.
Teachers, students and parents of students who were shot at the school talked about the physical and psychological scars they have from that day last May – PTSD, nightmares, triggers, and the inability to sleep among them.
One woman talked about hiding with her young children in a bathroom during the shooting and how her 5-year-old now associates broken glass on the ground with someone trying to kill them – saying her family was “broken.”
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said that McKinney should only get that “one second” of evil at the school and that the evil should be erased “to make sure that memory goes away.”
The prosecution finished up victim impact statements with statements from John and Maria Castillo, Kendrick’s parents.
John Castillo described eating breakfast with his son that day and taking a video of him driving off in his Jeep.
“Little did I know that would be the last time I saw him alive,” Castillo said.
He walked through that day: Going to a restaurant. Hearing the news of a shooting at the school. Seeing the scene on TV. Meeting his wife at the nearby rec center. Receiving a text that Kendrick had rushed the shooter. Going to the hospital. Being asked what Kendrick was wearing that day and being told, “We’re sorry.”
“His killer is a monster. You sit there with crocodile tears, moving your face – well-scripted. I need to tell you how I feel. These are real tears,” Castillo said, addressing McKinney via video conference.
“You took something from me that can never be replace. As a father, my only purpose in life was to provide for my family. You planned and orchestrated terror and a murder against innocent children while they sat in the dark. You ambushed them,” he said. “I hear people say, ‘I hope you find peace.’ I’ll never find peace.”
John Castillo said that McKinney had taken away his purpose in life.
“I’m not OK. I’m not right. I’ll never be normal. My life ended May 7. The reason I’m here today is because of his mother. And because Kendrick wouldn’t want me to give up,” Castillo said. “We’re not victims, we’re survivors.”
He told McKinney he was “nothing” and that he would never forgive him.
“I hate you. I love my Christ, Jesus, and I hope he forgives me,” Castillo said.
“Remember his name: Kendrick Castillo. Wipe that smirk off your face, those crocodile tears,” he said in finishing his address. “You disgust me.
Maria Castillo then spoke, calling McKinney a “domestic terrorist” through sobs.