In A Packed Courtroom, Arguments Focus On The Intent Of One Accused STEM School Shooter

September 24, 2019
People vs. Devon EricksonPeople vs. Devon EricksonPool Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Devon Erickson, the accused STEM School shooter, signing paperwork during his advisement hearing at the Douglas County Courthouse in Castle Rock, Colo., May 8, 2019.

Lawyers for Devon Erickson, the 19-year-old accused of taking part in an attack on the STEM School Highlands Ranch, said Tuesday that the then-high school senior didn’t intend to kill anyone.

On day one of the three-day preliminary hearing, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Detective Brian Pereira was the only person to testify. 

Pereira interviewed Erickson twice, once immediately after the shooting and the day after. In almost nine hours on the witness stand, Pereira tried to describe what Erickson said happened on May 7 in the shooting that killed one student and injured eight others. 

At issue is whether there is enough evidence to charge Erickson with first-degree murder, along with other charges. Pereira created the probable cause statement.

Fielding questions from both prosecutors and defense lawyers, Pereira said that Erickson told him that Alec McKinney, the second student charged in the shooting, forced him into most of what happened.

McKinney is biologically female and court documents use his legal name, Maya. McKinney identifies as male and uses the name Alec.

In a police interview after the shooting, McKinney told police that he had “homicidal” thoughts and that he wanted to hurt people, according to a tape played by defense attorneys. 

He told police he thought it was easy to sneak a gun into the school, and admitted Erickson was a willing accomplice.

“I started thinking Devon is an idiot … He hopped on the bandwagon easily,” McKinney said.

McKinney also told police that whether Erickson was going to help, he was going to do it.

In the hours before the shooting, investigators described a chaotic scene at the Erickson home, where both McKinney and Erickson were looking for gun safe keys, drinking vodka and doing cocaine.

Videos in Erickson’s cell phone showed McKinney yelling and forcing Erickson to do drugs and drink. Defense attorneys said that McKinney also threatened Erickson with an axe. Eventually, McKinney and Erickson broke open the safe with the axe and a crowbar and Erickson wrote “The Voices Win” in red in his parents’ master bedroom closet.

Defense attorneys say McKinney poured gasoline on Erickson’s mother’s white Honda in the garage and Erickson gave him a lighter to ignite it.

Prosecutors played surveillance tape of the two entering the school together a couple of hours later holding weapons — McKinney’s were in a blue backpack and Erickson was carrying a rifle in a guitar case. The two high-fived before parting ways.

Erickson was in British Literature class and told his teacher he didn’t feel well. She sent him to the nurse, along with a student escort. In the nurse’s office, Erickson went to the restroom. The nurse worried he was getting sick, so she waited outside. While in the bathroom, Erickson sent a text to his good friend in the classroom to get out, but the friend didn’t see the message, according to testimony.

Erickson and McKinney were snapchatting throughout the day. There were text messages from McKinney on Erickson’s cell phone sent at 1:31 p.m. on the day of the shooting that said, “I’m not doing this alone.”

At 1:48 p.m. McKinney sent a message to Erickson that said, “we have this all planned out.” Erickson responded at 1:51 p.m., “go now.” 

The defense portrayed Erickson’s role as a shooter as purely accidental and that Erickson was going along with McKinney’s plan because he felt threatened.

McKinney entered the back of the British Lit class, where students were watching a movie. Erickson was supposed to guard the front door. But when Erickson entered holding the gun and yelled that everyone should stay where they were, Kendrick Castillo and a few others rushed him and pinned him against a dry-erase board. 

In the scuffle, the gun went off, killing Castillo, defense attorneys say.

When authorities entered the classroom, they found Erickson subdued by student Joshua Jones, who had two gunshot wounds. 

When authorities arrested Erickson, they discovered he had written “GOD” across his chest with a marker.

The courtroom was packed for the hearing. Erickson was wearing red jail garb and his shaggy hair covered his eyes. He listened intently to Pereira’s testimony, glimpsing occasionally over his shoulder at the growing crowd in the room. When school let out, more students packed the benches. His parents and sister sat directly behind him.

The families of the victims, including Castillo’s parents, sat in the front row. At several moments, once when defense attorneys described Erickson asking for a sweatshirt to staunch Castillo’s wounds when police found him, Castillo’s father looked over at the Erickson family. 

Defense lawyers played a clip of a video interview with Erickson right after the shooting, and Erickson’s sister wept.

Castillo’s dad, outside the courthouse, described the defense’s account as “fiction.”

“It’s spin and it’s deception,” John Castillo said. “Our lives ended May 7 when we lost Kendrick … We only had one son, he’s gone. He was a hero, he was a good kid, but he wasn’t a victim. He stood up.”

Prosecutors are trying to prove to the judge that there is enough evidence to charge Erickson with first-degree murder, which includes intent.

Arguments continue Wednesday.