By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) – A 16-year-old transgender teenager should be tried as an adult on murder charges stemming from a shooting rampage at a suburban Denver high school in which one student was killed and eight others wounded, a Colorado judge ruled on Wednesday.
Alec McKinney, 16, was ordered along with Devon Erickson, 19, to stand trial on first-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons charges in the May 7 shooting at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, on May 7.
An 18-year-old student at the school, Kendrick Castillo, was shot to death when he ran toward one of the two assailants in what has been called a heroic effort to stop the shooting and save lives.
Prosecutors charged McKinney, who was born female but identifies as male, as an adult in the case.
McKinney’s lawyers sought to have the case moved to juvenile court, citing their client’s mental health issues and troubled childhood, including witnessing domestic violence committed by his father against his mother.
Douglas County District Judge Jeffrey Holmes acknowledged that McKinney had suffered “serious trauma,” but declined in a seven-page order to move the case.
“Based on the totality of the evidence before it, the Court finds that it is has not been proved that the juvenile and the community would be better served by transferring this case to juvenile court,” Holmes wrote.
If convicted of the murder charge at trial, McKinney faces up to 40 years in prison. Had the case been sent to juvenile court, the maximum sentence he could have received is seven years.
The Colorado Public Defender’s Office, which represents McKinney, does not speak to the media about its cases.
A spokeswoman for District Attorney George Brauchler said he had no immediate comment.
Erickson was bound over for trial in September and is scheduled to enter a plea on Friday.
Since he was 18 at the time of the shooting, Erickson could face the death penalty or a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole if he is convicted of the murder.
According to court documents, McKinney and Erickson armed themselves with three handguns and a 22-caliber rifle and took cocaine before carrying out the rampage.
McKinney told police he was in a “pre-op transitioning phase” and planned the shooting as revenge against classmates who bullied him for being transgender, according to an arrest affidavit.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney)