DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. -- The decision to try accused 16-year-old mass school shooter Alec McKinney as an adult or a juvenile is now in the hands of a judge.
During Wednesday’s testimony, the prosecution called Maria Castillo to the stand. She is the mother of Kendrick Castillo, who was killed in the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting.
“I visit Kendrick’s gravestone every day, even after this court, when it’s dark, I go and tell him good night and that I love him,” Maria Castillo said through tears. “I don’t have a life. He was my life. I wish we could trade places.”
Through that emotional testimony, an attorney on McKinney’s defense team broke down in tears and later rushed out of the courtroom.
“We were such a tight family that it’s hard. Every day is hard. Thanksgiving is going to be a hurdle…Christmas…walking into a big box store and looking at Christmas decorations and things, it gets to us,” said John Castillo, Kendrick's father.
Thursday marks the first Thanksgiving for John and Maria Castillo without Kendrick, who was their only son.
Kendrick was killed on May 7 while watching a movie in classroom 107 when investigators say Devon Erickson and Alec McKinney opened fire.
Eight other students were injured in the shooting.
During closing arguments on Wednesday, the defense told the judge, “I think Alec can redeem himself.” They showcased his troubled childhood and mental health, saying he was suicidal and engaged in self harming by cutting himself.
His attorneys say he “would benefit greatly from treatment at the Division of Youth Services” and not the Department of Corrections. Then, in a stunning revelation, McKinney’s lawyer said, “you transfer him to juvenile court, we’re pleading guilty to all charges. It’s over.”
But the minimum sentence for a juvenile on a murder one count in DYS is just two years, compared to the 40-year minimum sentence in the DOC.
“The penalty needs to fit the crime is what I'm really saying. I’m not saying troubled youth can’t be rehabilitated, but it depends on the crime they’re doing. Mass calculated murder on innocent students is not one of those,” John Castillo said.
Meanwhile, 18th Judicial District Attorney and lead prosecutor, George Brauchler said, “it doesn’t matter if he’s 16 or 100. He acted as an adult” to carry out this heinous crime.
Prosecutors told the judge kids with much worse childhoods than McKinney’s do not grow up to be killers.
"DYS has never housed a mass shooter," Brauchler said, saying there are serious concerns because “last year there were 100-plus escapes from DYS facilities”.
Brauchler told the judge that sending the case down to juvenile court would be a “dramatic injustice.”
As the Castillos hold out hope the judge will try McKinney as an adult, they look to help other grieving families.
“Our lives will never be repaired but as we go forward, we have to find ways to release and let people know how we feel. Hopefully make positive changes,” John Castillo said.
There was no comment from the defendant’s family. The judge will issue a written ruling on the decision to keep the case in adult court or move it to juvenile court next Wednesday, Dec. 4.