Judge Rules That Alleged STEM Shooter Will Face All Charges, Including First-Degree Murder

September 25, 2019
STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting suspect Devon Erickson makes a court appearance at the Douglas County Courthouse May 15, 2019, in Castle Rock, Colo.
STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting suspect Devon Erickson makes a court appearance at the Douglas County Courthouse May 15, 2019, in Castle Rock, Colo.
Pool photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post
STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting suspect Devon Erickson makes a court appearance at the Douglas County Courthouse May 15, 2019, in Castle Rock, Colo.

A judge has ruled there is enough evidence for the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting suspect Devon Erickson to stand trial on all charges.

Whether Erickson walked into his high school with a loaded gun and intended to kill people was at question on day two of the 19 year-old’s preliminary hearing.

Erickson faces 44 felony charges in connection to the May 7 shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch — including two counts of first-degree murder. His defense team is challenging those two charges to district court Judge Theresa Slade.

Defense has worked for two days to portray Erickson as a man who was under duress — even threat — from his 16-year-old friend Alec McKinney, the other alleged shooter. 

His lawyers argued that Erickson didn’t wake up that Tuesday wanting to do anything. They produced witnesses who had talked to Erickson that morning and said he was acting normal. They argued it was only when McKinney showed up at Erickson’s family home a few hours before the shooting and forced him to take cocaine and drink vodka that Erickson realized his friend was going down a homicidal path.

Both students entered the school through a side door with weapons, Erickson’s were inside a guitar case and McKinney’s were in a blue backpack. They parted ways, but kept in touch via Snapchat and text message. At one point, McKinney texted, “I’m not doing this without you.” Right before the shooting started, Erickson texted, "go now."

One student, Kendrick Castillo, was shot and killed in the attack. Eight others were injured.

“We aren’t arguing this isn’t tragic,” Erickson’s lawyer David Kaplan told the judge. But, he said, simply because people are injured doesn’t mean there is probable cause for first degree intentional murder.

In question is whether Erickson actually purposefully shot his loaded gun inside classroom 107 on May 7. Kaplan argues that Erickson stood in the doorway, with a rifle, and yelled that everyone needed to stay still. But then he was tackled by three students, including Castillo, and his gun accidentally shot four rounds in the scuffle.

It remains unclear whose gun ultimately killed Castillo.

Prosecutors say Erickson entered the classroom with a loaded weapon, hidden in a guitar case, with an intent to kill. They say he pointed it at people and fired four rounds. 

“No matter what the spin is, these are the facts and that is enough evidence to hold him,” Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said.

The judge also appeared unconvinced by the defense’s argument that Erickson was forced to do what he did by McKinney. 

In making her ruling, Judge Theresa Spade said essentially that Erickson had several opportunities to alert an adult or warn students and that he didn’t take them. 

The most damning piece of evidence, she said, was a Snapchat exchange between McKinney and Erickson moments before the shooting in which McKinney said, “we have it all planned out” and Erickson responded a few minutes later, “go now.”

“Your response was not, ‘I’m not up for this today,’” Judge Spade said, directly talking to Erickson.

McKinney also texted Erickson, “I can’t do this without you.”

To that, Spade said, “your response could have been, ‘then don’t do it’”

Spade said Erickson “created a grave risk of death of people other than himself.”

Erickson was mostly expressionless during the ruling. His mother and his sister wept softly in the front row.

An arraignment for Erickson is scheduled for December. The judge denied a request for a cash bond, so he will continue to be held at the Douglas County Detention Center.