CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (CBS4) – Testimony entered its second week in the reverse transfer hearing on Monday for one of the suspects in the fatal school shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch in May with two expert witnesses called by the defense. They provided analysis of Alec McKinney and research on the state of mind for adolescents versus adults. This was the sixth day of the court proceeding that will determine if McKinney should be tried as an juvenile or an adult.
Dr. Elizabeth Christiaens was called by the defense as an expert witness in clinical and forensic psychology. She conducted multiple risk assessments on McKinney and spent around 50 hours working on this case. Christiaens not only reviewed discovery evidence but also interviewed the defendant before issuing her own report for the defense. Her findings suggested that McKinney would have a low to moderate risk to future violence and would likely benefit from rehabilitation in a juvenile setting.
But the prosecution not only questioned the expert witness’s qualifications with limited experience supporting defense teams but also her approach in evaluating McKinney. Specifically, the fact that the psychologist did not review a four-hour video recorded interview with McKinney as a part of her report.
“I felt like I was doing people a favor,” McKinney said to investigators right after the shooting. Prosecutors read the statement for the court. “Showing them the real world.”
Prosecutors pointed out several statements the defendant made to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office that contradicted the findings by Dr. Christiaens. They also pointed out that she did not look into whether McKinney showed any remorse.
“He’s such a bad person,” McKinney also said to investigators about one of the victims he targeted in that recorded interview with the sheriff’s office. Prosecutors shared this statement from the transcript. “He deserves to be touched by something bad.”
Christiaens said her review of the defendant’s life before the shooting revealed a history marked by chaos. She pointed to the consistent drug and alcohol use in his childhood as a factor impacting his mental state. But prosecutors said not considering the shooting was an inaccurate view of McKinney’s mental state with the upcoming decision this hearing.
“I want to scare them,” the defendant said in that same interview about his classmates. “They deserve to suffer and live.”
In the cross examination, prosecutors said these comments by McKinney showed a deception that Dr. Christiaens did not identify in her report. She did acknowledge the defendant can tell right from wrong and he was capable of foresight but ignored it.
“He was a master manipulator and a bully,” the school counselor told investigators. Her statement was brought up by the prosecutors in court on Monday. “He’s a puppet master.”
The defense’s other expert witness was a professor from Temple University in Philadelphia, Dr. Laurence Steinberg, who has focused his work on developmental psychology in adolescents. He shared with the court that teens are still developing their brains and often are more impulsive as well as focused more on the immediate effects of their decisions compared to adults. Dr. Steinberg also said that exposure to trauma and drug use can affect the development of the brain.
Prosecutors pointed out that while Steinberg did review material specific to the case, he did not issue any opinion on the specifics. He only provided research that spoke to teens in general. Ultimately, he is not here to give the judge or the court any opinion on the case.
Court hearings on Tuesday were called off due to weather conditions. The defense does not have any more witnesses but the prosecution has two more scheduled for the next day of court. They also have a third witness they may want to call but he cannot travel to Denver because of a cancelled flight and he would need to reschedule his testimony. Both sides could begin their closing arguments soon.