Devon Erickson was one of two students who planned and carried out an attack at the STEM School Highlands Ranch in which one student was killed and eight others were injured on May 7, 2019.
June 16, 2021
A 20-year-old man has been convicted of murder for his role in a mass shooting at his Colorado high school in which one student was killed and eight others were injured in 2019.
Devon Erickson was 18 when he and another teenager, Alec McKinney, entered the STEM School Highlands Ranch, where they were students, and began shooting inside a classroom on May 7, 2019.
The shooting, in an English class where students were watching “The Princess Bride” three days before the last day of school, killed Kendrick Castillo, 18, a gentle teenager who was fascinated with cars and engineering and who tried to stop the attack.
A jury convicted Mr. Erickson on Tuesday of 46 counts related to the shootings, including first-degree murder for the death of Mr. Castillo. Mr. Erickson, who was convicted after a 12-day trial, was also found guilty of conspiring to murder six other students who were shot during the attack but survived. Two other students in another classroom were also injured, according to prosecutors.
After the verdict, John Castillo, Kendrick Castillo’s father, said the jury’s decision provided a measure of justice for his son, his only child.
“I feel that he was with us. He was probably with those jurors helping this decision,” he told reporters after the verdict. “We’ll never quit missing him. We’ll never quit honoring him.”
John Kellner, the district attorney for Colorado’s 18th Judicial District, said many more people would have been hurt and killed if it had not been for Mr. Castillo and other students who lunged at Mr. Erickson and Mr. McKinney.
The mandatory penalty for first-degree murder in Colorado is life in prison without the possibility of parole, Mr. Kellner said.
“There are hundreds of years on top of that that will be mandatory as well,” he told reporters after the verdict was announced.
Mitchell Kraus, a student at the school who testified during the trial, said the verdict gave him a sense of relief and closure.
“Now that I can be sure that this monster, to be honest, is never going to see the light of day again, it’s just a weight off my back,” Mr. Kraus told reporters.
Mr. Erickson’s lawyers, David Kaplan and Julia Stancil, argued at the trial that he did not intend to kill anyone that day.
They said that he was malnourished and depressed and that he had been using cocaine and methamphetamines in large quantities. Mr. Erickson, who is 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighed 95 pounds at the time of his arrest, according to a police affidavit.
His lawyers said in their opening statement that before meeting Mr. McKinney, Mr. Erickson was a warm, funny teenager who loved music and was kind to people who were bullied.
In 2019, when his mother became ill and his family life fractured, Mr. Erickson became depressed. The lawyers said that he fell under the influence of Mr. McKinney, who was 16 when the shootings occurred, and was “the puppet master.”
Mr. Kaplan declined comment on the verdict on Wednesday.
Mr. McKinney, whose legal name is Maya McKinney, told the authorities that he targeted several students who “always made fun of him, ‘hated him,’ called him names and said he was disgusting for trying to be a guy,” according to an affidavit from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
One student had broken Mr. McKinney’s laptop and repeatedly referred to him as “a she,” the affidavit states.
Mr. McKinney also told the authorities that the suicidal and homicidal thoughts he’d had since he was 12 came back to him in the weeks before the shooting.
Prosecutors said that both Mr. McKinney and Mr. Erickson fired guns they had taken after breaking into a locked cabinet in Mr. Erickson’s home.
During the trial, prosecutors called Mr. McKinney to the stand. He testified that he and Mr. Erickson planned the attack together. The plan was to kill everyone in the classroom and then for Mr. Erickson to kill Mr. McKinney so Mr. Erickson would look heroic, Mr. McKinney said.
Mr. Kraus, the student who testified at Mr. Erickson’s trial, told reporters that before the shootings, he walked down a hallway with Mr. Erickson.
“The entire time not once did he turn to me and say, ‘This is about to happen, this is something that you can avoid,’” he said. “He just completely acted like it was normal.”
Mr. McKinney pleaded guilty last year to 17 counts related to the shootings, including first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder after deliberation, and six counts of attempted murder after deliberation. He was sentenced to life in prison and an additional 38 years.
Under Colorado law, the mandatory minimum sentence for someone convicted of committing first-degree murder at the age of 16 is life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years minus earned time. If Mr. McKinney were to be accepted into a special program for prisoners under 18, he could be released within 20 or 25 years, said Vikki Migoya, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kellner’s office.
Mr. Erickson will be sentenced on Sept. 17.