DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – A preliminary hearing began Monday for STEM School Highlands Ranch suspect Alec McKinney. McKinney is one of two teenage suspects in the May 7 shooting at the STEM School Highlands Ranch, which resulted in the death of student Kendrick Castillo and left eight others injured.
In the hearing, the judge will determine whether or not prosecutors have sufficient evidence to take McKinney’s case to trial. McKinney’s defense is also hoping a judge will transfer the case from district court, where he is being charged as an adult, to juvenile court.
On Monday, the judge determined that there is enough evidence in this case to go to trial. What’s still being decided is whether McKinney will be tried as an adult or a juvenile.
The first witness testifying in the hearing is the lead investigator on the case, who described the attack and McKinney’s involvement.
The detective said McKinney told investigators that being a student at the STEM School was “the worst experience,” and that he got “a lot of crap for being transgender.” The detective also said McKinney told investigators that he didn’t “go a single day without someone saying they want to kill themselves.”
The detective went on to explain McKinney told investigators that he has been hearing “voices” since he was 12 years old, and the voices tell him to cut himself, saying they tell him to “cut deeper.” The detective testified McKinney told investigators that he has been taking medications to stop the voices, but that sometimes he purposefully stops taking the medication so the “voices will come back.”
According to the detective, the voices also encourage McKinney to follow through with the attack. In his interview with investigators, McKinney said the voices say “this place deserves to be shot up.”
The detective testified that Devon Erickson, the second suspect in the school shooting, wrote “the voices win” in red nail polish on a closet wall in Erickson’s house when Erickson and McKinney were there just hours before the shooting.
While McKinney’s defense team was questioning the detective, they inquired about McKinney’s alleged intent for the attack. The detective explained that McKinney did say he hoped no one died during the attack.
“I wanted to kill them, but I also wanted to scare them,” the detective said McKinney told investigators. “I wanted them to live so they could live with this fear.”
McKinney also allegedly told investigators that during the shooting, he was thinking about his father, who he believed had killed other people before, and that McKinney felt he was going to be “just like him.”
Also presented in court were compelling video clips of school surveillance video and a Douglas County Sheriff’s deputy’s body camera video.
School surveillance video showed McKinney fighting with another student, who was allegedly trying to take McKinney’s gun from him. The detective testified in court that McKinney admitted to emptying the revolver he used for the shooting. In fact, the detective said McKinney thought he shot 12 times, but investigators believe he shot nine times.
The detective said McKinney tried to grab another gun to kill himself, but he couldn’t figure out the gun’s safety feature. School surveillance video presented in court on Monday showed McKinney holding the gun to his head before a security guard apprehended him, and handcuffed him.
The detective testified that McKinney asked the guard to kill him.
Deputy body camera video released in court on Monday showed how deputies had to break through two different locked doors of the school in order to respond to the shooting inside.
First, deputies were shown breaking the glass of the school’s front door. Then deputies had to use a crowbar to break the lock of another door.
The detective testified it took deputies several minutes to get inside.
Once detectives were inside the school, they searched the handcuffed McKinney. The body camera video showed several bullets, a magazine, and a cell phone were in McKinney’s pockets.
In the body camera video, McKinney told the deputy he was worried about his gender being exposed, because he is trans gender. The deputy responded that was the least of his worries.
A judge is also deliberating on the defense’s motion to suppress the statements McKinney made to investigators the day of the shooting, saying he was coerced into talking to them. The defense is using some of the body cam footage to show how an officer yelled at McKinney when he was handcuffed on the ground, saying, “You better f***ing start talking.” The defense says that was forceful and coercing him.
The prosecution says that falls under the public safety exception, and that McKinney had plenty of time between being taken into custody and being interviewed by investigators at the sheriffs department to think about things. Also said his demeanor was very calm during the entire interview after the shooting, he wasn’t crying or upset. Prosecution maintains he had “an uncoerced choice.”
On Tuesday, the defense will call several witnesses to testify about McKinney’s mental health diagnoses and struggles.
Proceedings are expected to go on for the next few days in Douglas County District Court.
The judge ordered McKinney to remain in custody.
STORY NOTE: McKinney is a female who identifies as male and prefers to be called Alec. On Monday, the judge ruled that the suspect will be referred to as Alec in all court proceedings. CBS4 will refer to the suspect as Alec in all future posts.