DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. – A judge on Friday sentenced Alec McKinney, the juvenile shooter 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 conspiracy 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 and the rest running concurrently.
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.
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.”
“We need to push that evil away and say you are not important anymore. The good is what is important,” Spurlock said.
A student from Room 107, where the shooting occurred, discussed the severe anxiety she still suffers from and that she has pondered suicide since the day of the shooting.
And though McKinney cried throughout many of the victim impact statements, the student said that McKinney had shown no remorse.
“He’s not crying because he regrets it; he’s crying because he got caught,” she said.
Another student who was in a nearby room described nearly being hit by bullets that day – one of which hit his friend, whom he said was still having problems recovering from the shooting today. The student asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence.
Many of the dozens of victims who gave statements at the sentencing hearing Friday requested they not be recorded by the press, so their statements are not available for publication.
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.
“I hope this domestic terrorist must never have a chance to get out, because my son’s life mattered. And for as long as I’m alive, I will do everything in my power to make sure this evil killer pays for what she did,” she said. “I will never forgive you, evil killer. My only wish is to see you dead, burning in hell.”
McKinney’s mother addressed the court and her son but did not give consent for her statement to be recorded or published.
Brauchler, in closing, asked the judge to impose the maximum potential sentence for McKinney after outlining the shooting, the victim impact statements and how sentencing works for juveniles.
“This is the biggest crime in the history of Douglas County. What will we say about it? What responsibility will we enforce on this defendant for those acts? While no number can bring back what was taken, or restore what was broken, that number can go a long way,” Brauchler told the court in closing. “Even if you give the maximum sentence, in all likelihood, the defendant is going to be walking around the streets again before he’s my age. He could have a family, a job, a meaningful life, and that is something that Kendrick Castillo will never have.”
McKinney’s attorney read a letter from McKinney’s two siblings to the court and afterward explained the changes McKinney has undergone in the 14 months since the shooting through counseling. He said McKinney would “need to beg for forgiveness and he will” every day of his life and told the judge that McKinney had asked him not to make a sentencing recommendation.
McKinney then made an emotional statement of his own in which he apologized to every victim and their family who spoke in court Friday and addressed what they had said.
“On May 7, 2019, I took the lives of not only Kendrick Ray Castillo and his family, but the lives of all the kids and families that attended STEM School Highlands Ranch. I killed their innocence, killed their ambitions and I killed their sense of security. I not only physically killed people, I mentally killed people too,” he said.
“I don’t know how to describe the sorrow I feel when I think of the victims … But the list of people I hurt goes so much deeper, so much longer than the list of those directly shot. At the time, I didn’t think about how so many people would get hurt. It didn’t’ click that people would die. … I feel like people want me to give some groundbreaking, revolutionary reason I did this. But the reason I did this was stupid, pitiful and selfish. I was willing to do everything for Devon, including shooting up the school. For that, I am at fault,” he added.
“For that, I don’t deserve leniency or forgiveness. I don’t want a lighter sentence, just want to take this opportunity to finally speak for myself and apologize for what I have done, even though at this point, I should not be forgiven.”
Judge Holmes told McKinney before sentencing him that he hoped McKinney was truthful in his statements before imposing the sentence.
“I hope the things you said are true. Wherever you are, people who are in prison have the potential to … change,” he said, then handed down the sentence of life plus 139 ½ years.
“Alec, good luck.”
Brauchler, Spurlock and John Castillo all addressed the media after the hearing was over.
Castillo said the sentence was “what’s to be expected” from the juvenile system and after lawmakers passed the law that could allow McKinney to petition to go on parole after 25 years in prison and completing a three-year program. He said he would be moving forward with his activism in that regard, and in regard to keeping student resource officers in schools and supporting the police.
“The only way real change happens is if you get behind a movement,” he said.
Spurlock said he also wished the judge could have handed out life without parole and that “it’s not what I wanted.”
He said he feels confident that Brauchler and his team, with the sheriff’s office’s support, will get a conviction in Erickson’s case and would seek a sentence of life without parole if he is convicted
“From the optics standpoint, I’m bummed,” Brauchler said. “The message I wanted sent to this community, is if you engage in the planning and execution of a mass shooting in school, you should expect the system to take from you every single second of freedom you have.”
He, like Spurlock, said he hoped for a conviction and life-without-parole sentence in Erickson’s case.
Erickson’s trial is set to begin on Sept. 28.
This is a developing news story and will be updated.