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CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — Confessed and convicted STEM School Highlands Ranch shooter Alec McKinney could be released from prison in 20 years, even though he was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 40 years.

The topic was brought up in Douglas County court this week, when McKinney testified against Devon Erickson, who’s facing trial for first-degree murder and other charges in the mass shooting from May 2019.

Last year, McKinney pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and other charges for his role in the shooting. He was 16 when it happened.

“I do know I have a possibility of parole after 40 years,” McKinney said on the stand, in response to defense attorney Julia Stancil’s question about McKinney’s plea deal.

But Stancil was quick to respond.

“Well, much sooner that, because of a specialized program JCAP,” Stancil said.

“I’m not sure if I even qualify for that program. I know I don’t at this time,” McKinney responded.

The program they were referring to is Juveniles Convicted As Adults, commonly known as JCAP. The Colorado legislature passed it in 2016.

With it, people who are convicted of some violent felonies as juveniles could have the possibility of early parole after 20 years if they meet a long list of criteria. They must also have the approval of the parole board and the governor.

The Department of Correction’s latest report on JCAP shows that 21 inmates have been accepted into the program and 25 have been rejected.

“The JCAP program was developed to give them that kind of lens of – are they receiving treatment? Are they having remorse for their actions? And can they be released safely and successfully into their communities?” said Dr. Apryl Alexander, a professor of psychology at the University of Denver, who studies this issue.

According to the state, the JCAP bill was signed to “implement a system that allows any inmate who committed a serious crime as a juvenile, was treated as an adult by the criminal justice system, and has served more than twenty or twenty-five calendar years of a sentence to the department of corrections, during which he or she has exhibited growth and rehabilitation, the opportunity to further demonstrate rehabilitation and earn early release in a specialized program in a less secure
setting without compromising public safety.”

To be clear, it’ll be years before the DOC decides if McKinney is eligible for JCAP.

This year, the Colorado legislature passed a bill that increases the maximum age for an early parole program to 21. Gov. Jared Polis has not signed it yet.