Defense: Colorado school gunman was manipulated by friend


DENVER — A teen accused of killing a fellow student at his suburban Denver school in 2019 agreed to participate in the attack as long as it looked like he was pressured into participating and possibly emerged as a hero by killing the other student gunman, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday during the opening of his trial.

Chief Deputy District Attorney George Brauchler said their concocted “victim-hero” strategy unraveled after Kendrick Castillo rushed Devon Erickson when he pulled out a gun inside a darkened classroom as students watched a movie. Erickson’s gun went off, Castillo was killed and others tackled him, he said. Their other possible scenario, in which fellow gunman Alec McKinney killed himself, was stymied after an armed security guard apprehended him, Brauchler said.

However, Erickson’s lawyer tried to discredit that account and said he was manipulated into joining the attack by McKinney, a new friend who preyed on him during a family crisis and who was obsessed with a Florida teen described by authorities as “infatuated” with the the 1999 Columbine shooting. Sol Pais, 18, traveled to Colorado, bought a gun and killed herself right before the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shooting. About three weeks later, the May 7 shooting broke out at STEM School Highlands Ranch.

“Devon Erickson is not a demon. He is not a monster. He’s not evil,” said defense attorney Julia Stancil, noting that he was not sleeping and was wasting away from constant drug use at the time of the shooting.

She said McKinney, whom she described as schizophrenic and unreliable, is the sole source of the “victim-hero” story, which she said he offered to prosecutors about eight months after the shooting. McKinney had a motive to say what prosecutors wanted to hear because he reached a deal with them, she said. Because McKinney, at 16, was a juvenile at the time of the shooting, the deal gives him a chance at being paroled.

Erickson was 18 at the time of the shooting and is now 20. He is charged with all the same counts that McKinney was but because he was an adult at the time of the attack he could be sentenced to life in prison without parole if convicted.

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