CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (CBS4) – Maya “Alec” McKinney, one of the two Colorado students charged in the STEM School Highlands Ranch Shooting in May 2019, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole plus 38 years on Friday afternoon. McKinney, who was a juvenile at the time of the shooting, was sentenced as an adult and faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison. McKinney was born female but identifies as a male, and goes by Alec.
More than 20 witnesses and victims testified at the sentencing hearing Friday.
The May 7, 2019 shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch claimed the life of student Kendrick Castillo and injured eight others. Castillo, 18, was killed in the shooting after he and two other students rushed one of the shooters who opened fire in the classroom.
Kendrick’s father, John Castillo, said McKinney’s guilty plea was the outcome for which he had been hoping, and as for the sentence McKinney received, Castillo said, “it’s what’s to be expected.”
John Castillo testified at the sentencing hearing, saying he wanted McKinney to receive the maximum sentence possible.
“This killer is a monster,” Castillo said. “You took something from me that can never be replaced… you’ve taken my purpose… I will never find peace.”
Due to the pandemic, McKinney was not physically in the courtroom for the sentencing hearing, but rather appeared on a live video chat – his face up on a large TV screen for the entire courtroom to see.
Looking at the television screen, Castillo told McKinney, “I’ll never forgive you, I hate you.”
Kendrick’s mother, Maria Castillo also testified.
“I will never forgive you,” she told McKinney. “My only wish is to see you dead, burning in hell.”
The father of Lucas Albertoni, one of the students who was shot and injured, asked the DA to read a statement for the court, which explained how it’s too risky for doctors to remove the bullets from Albertoni’s body, so he will forever live with the effects of lead poisoning.
One teacher who testified at Friday’s sentencing hearing, Lauren Harper, was in the room where the shooting occurred.
“(The shooting) profoundly impacted so many people’s lives,” Harper said in court Friday. “It is a burden I must bear for the rest of my days.”
Harper also described what she saw during the shooting, saying, “we held, quite physically, each other’s wounds.”
A STEM School student, Aiden Morrison, recalled in court what he saw the day of the shooting, as well, and had a message for McKinney.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Morrison said. “Other people may think that you will learn from your actions, but I don’t think you will… I hope that you suffer.”
Another student who witnessed the shooting, Isabelle Perochini, also did not mince words in her testimony, speaking directly at McKinney.
“You were born a mistake,” she said. “You are such a failure and always will be… you are a waste of tax dollars.”
Wearing a navy blue shirt, McKinney was crying the entire time all witnesses were giving testimony during the Friday’s sentencing hearing.
McKinney’s mother, Morgan McKinney, was the only witness for the defense to testify.
“Mr. and Mrs. Castillo, I want to say how deeply sorry I am for your loss,” she began.
The Castillo family walked out of the courtroom and did not listen to the remainder of her testimony.
“To the courts,” Morgan McKinney said, “I ask that you keep in mind Alec’s age, it’s no excuse, I know… I hope there is some leniency.”
She also had a few words for her son.
“You can still right your wrongs,” she told Alec McKinney. “I love you always.”
McKinney pleaded guilty to 17 counts related to the shooting including:
• first-degree murder in the death of Kendrick Castillo;
• conspiracy to commit first-degree murder after deliberation;
• 6 counts of attempted murder after deliberation
• attempted murder extreme indifference (this count is amended to name everyone who was not physically shot in room 107)
• second-degree assault (this count identifies the victims who were injured as a result of the security guard’s response to the active shooter situation)
• conspiracy to commit arson
• conspiracy to commit burglary
• conspiracy to commit criminal mischief
• possession of a weapon on school grounds
• possession of a handgun by a juvenile
• 2 crime-of-violence sentence enhancers
Other charged counts were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
According to the district attorney, “due to changes in Colorado law in 2016 by the state legislature, the mandatory minimum sentence for 16-year-old McKinney is life with possibility of parole after 40 years, minus earned time. The maximum sentence under the plea agreement is life with the possibility of parole after 40 years, minus earned time, plus 407½ years in the Department of Corrections.”
D.A. George Brauchler said McKinney has shown remorse for his actions.
Brauchler also said a recent change in sentencing laws for juveniles who commit crimes could mean McKinney could apply for parole in as early as 18 years into his sentence.
Brauchler was not sure if McKinney would be sent to a women’s or men’s prison, but said the department of corrections usually makes accommodations to protect trans individuals, and currently McKinney is housed in a male wing of the juvenile corrections facility, but has his own cell.
John Castillo said he wants to see legislative changes to create harsher sentences for juvenile offenders. He says he’s also working to educate the community to take these matters seriously.
“Because, no matter what bills are drawn up at the capitol, if we don’t get our communities behind them and understand them, it really doesn’t matter, you know, they’d just be shelved and they get put back in there until they recirculate again, meanwhile, there is a countdown clock to possibly another event, and nobody wants that,” John said.
In September 2019, a judge found that McKinney’s alleged accomplice, 19-year-old Devon Erickson, could be prosecuted on 44 charges that include murder and attempted murder.
Erickson pleaded not guilty in January to first-degree murder and 16 other charges. Erickson is scheduled to face a jury trial in September.