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STEM School shooting suspects were partners in 'shared scheme,' prosecution says in final argument

Stem School Shooting
Posted at 5:45 PM, Jun 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-15 09:30:00-04

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — The prosecution in closing arguments on Monday painted the suspects in the 2019 STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting as coordinated partners — as two suspects collaborating in a "shared scheme" — refuting a defense strategy that aimed to show that Devon Erickson was pressured into the mass shooting by Alec McKinney.

The final arguments lasted three hours and wrapped a lengthy final day of Erickson's trial. The jury was being sent home for the night and will begin deliberations Tuesday morning.

The final arguments were planned for earlier in the day, though jury instructions delayed the closings until shortly before 3 p.m.

Erickson faces 48 counts, including 43 felonies, in the case and pleaded not guilty to the charges at an arraignment in January 2020. Two of the 48 counts are sentence enhancers if he is convicted.

Kendrick Castillo died in the shooting, and evidence presented in the trial showed that Castillo was one of several students who tried to stop the shooting, saving the lives of others in the schools.

In closing, prosecutor George Brauchler immediately honed in on the Snapchat video that showed McKinney screaming at Erickson to break into a safe at his home to steal guns from Erickson's parents.

Erickson had told investigators that the videos showed that McKinney was forcing him into the shooting.

But McKinney, who was sentenced last year to life in prison for his role in the shooting, testified that the video was staged and that the teens had actually shot two previous versions of the video but did not think they would be believable.

Brauchler also pointed to friendly Instagram messages between Erickson and McKinney leading up to the shooting; to video that showed the two giving each other a fist bump; and to witness testimony that Erickson allegedly did not appear concerned about a potential shooting in the hours before the shooting.

Brauchler said McKinney and Erickson were partners in a "shared scheme" to carry out the school shooting.

Erickson's attorney, David Kaplan, on Monday argued that the circumstances of Erickson's involvement "makes no sense."

Kaplan described McKinney as "a man who would not be denied" who manipulated Erickson's "confused brain."

Kaplan said Erickson didn't stop McKinney because he didn't know how.

"He's on a roll," Kaplan said, describing McKinney's actions on the day of the shooting, in which McKinney and Erickson broke into Erickson's parents' gun safe.

Kaplan called McKinney "a man on a mission" whose goal was to die on May 7, 2019, and he noted that McKinney testified that Erickson had never seen him like that.

Kaplan argued that Erickson did not enter the classroom at the STEM school "with the intent for a massacre," saying Erickson fired shots after he was confronted by other students.

But Brauchler in his closing argument said that Erickson pulled the trigger four times, including when he was already on the ground as the other students tried to stop him.

"The truth is," Brauchler said, "this was supposed to be much worse than it was, but it didn't because of the heroes [in the classroom]."

After closing arguments, John Castillo, the father of Kendrick Castillo, said he was looking forward to a verdict in the case after many emotional days of testimony. He said he believes there is enough evidence against Erickson to prove that he was involved and not a victim of McKinney's, as the defense tried to portray him.

John Castillo speaks after closing arguments in Devon Erickson trial

"Technology is a wonderful thing," he said, discussing cell phone records and videos shown in court. "...Even if they go to the cloud, or even if they're erased, or whatever, there's still a trail that can be subpoenaed where we can see justice. And that's important."

He said he and his wife have gone to Kendrick's memorial every morning and evening of the trial.

"We spend time and we pray with him. We ask for strength. And you know, it doesn't stop after all this," he said. "There's still things that I need to fight for after this is over. This is actually a very small step in justice for Kendrick."

Castillo said he and his wife would be back at the courthouse Tuesday in anticipation of a verdict.

McKinney was sentenced last July to life in prison with the possibility of parole after he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and more than a dozen other felonies in connection with the shooting. He was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole because he was a juvenile when the crimes occurred.