DENVER (AP) – An attorney for a man charged with shooting two Colorado eighth graders at a middle school that’s just miles from the site of one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings told jurors Tuesday her client has struggled with imaginary voices for years.
Defense lawyer Thea Reiff said Bruco Strong Eagle Eastwood had written in his notebook before last year’s shooting that the voices were becoming more threatening.
Eastwood has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to 15 charges, including attempted first-degree murder, in the shooting at Deer Creek Middle School that was reminiscent of the 1999 mass shooting at nearby Columbine High School.
During opening statements at Eastwood’s trial on Tuesday, Reiff showed jurors portions of the rambling journal in which Eastwood referred to mutants or transformers that were taking over his body.
“They want me to have nothing. Instead, they have me suffering, alive but in pain,” Eastwood noted in one entry.
The notebook included doodles of a man under attack.
Prosecutor Alexis King told the jury that Eastwood knew the difference between right and wrong when he shot the two children as they were leaving their suburban Denver school on Feb. 23, 2010. The school in Littleton is just miles from where one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings took place in 1999.
“He yelled that they were going to die,” King said. “He knew it was wrong and his behavior can’t be excused.”
Eastwood is accused of wounding Deer Creek students Reagan Webber and Matt Thieu.
Prosecutors said Tuesday that Eastwood approached a group of students and asked, “Do you like going to this school?” before shooting Webber in the arm. He then aimed at a boy who was running away. Thieu suffered a chest wound the size of a saucer plate.
Math teachers David Benke and Norm Hanne were hailed as heroes for tackling the shooter in the school parking lot and holding him until deputies arrived. After the Columbine attack, authorities and educators in Littleton were given extensive training on how to deal with school shootings and limit the number of casualties.
At an earlier hearing, investigators testified that Eastwood told them he was poor, hadn’t fit in with classmates when he attended Deer Creek in the early 1990s, and was subject to bullying and harassment.
Eastwood told investigators last year he took his backpack, cigarettes, $23 cash and his dad’s rifle, then bought ammunition at a sporting goods store. After stopping at a McDonald’s for some chicken sandwiches, he entered the school and told staffers he had attended it in 1991 or 1992, and asked if he could tour it.
He was told he would have to wait until students left. He waited in his car and watched a sheriff’s deputy who is assigned to the school drive away to another call before he sneaked up on the students and started shooting.
Eastwood’s trial is expected to last three weeks. He could face decades in prison if convicted of the charges — or an indefinite amount of time in a mental health institute if found not guilty by reason of insanity.
– By Steven K. Paulson, AP Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)