Colo school shooting verdict: not guilty, insanity

AP News

10/5/2011 11:04:08 PM - AP News

A man charged with attempted first-degree murder in the shooting and wounding of two eighth-graders at a Colorado middle school was found not guilty by reason of insanity Wednesday.

Bruco Strong Eagle Eastwood, who was armed with a rifle, was tackled and held by two teachers shortly after the February 2010 attack at Deer Creek Middle School that recalled memories of the 1999 mass shooting at nearby Columbine High School.

Eastwood was charged with a total of 15 crimes. Jurors found him not guilty by reason of insanity on all but one charge: possession of a weapon on school grounds, which carries a sentence of up to 1 1/2 years in prison. Sentencing will be Nov. 15.

After the verdict, Deborah Weber, mother of one of the wounded students, said she was disappointed because she felt prosecutors proved that Eastwood was sane at the time of the shootings

"I don't think that people should confuse mental illness with insanity, which is of the legal kind," Weber said. "I don't think that legal insanity should absolve someone of doing time."

Defense attorney Katherine Spengler said she would appeal that conviction.

Eastwood, who has been at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo since the summer of 2010, struggles to understand why he did what he did, Spengler said.

"Mr. Eastwood is an extremely ill man ... and he is incredibly remorseful about what he did, and we're glad that the children are recovering," Spengler said.

She said he continues to get treatment at the state hospital.

District Attorney Scott Storey said Eastwood will remain at the state hospital for an indeterminate time until he is deemed legally sane and released. His case will be reviewed every six months.

Storey added that the average stay in the state hospital for homicide cases is 7 1/2 years and that in Eastwood's case, it could be less.

"It was a case that had to be tried," Storey said afterward. "You can't have somebody come onto our school grounds and shooting at students ... He's profoundly mentally ill. I respect the jury's verdict, but I don't agree with it .... I have no regrets for taking this case to trial.

"There are certain cases that just outrage me to the core. This is one of them."

During the trial, defense lawyers showed jurors portions of Eastwood's rambling journal that 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.

Eastwood had written in his notebook before last year's shooting that the voices were becoming more threatening. The notebook included doodles of a man under attack.

Prosecutors told the jury that Eastwood knew the difference between right and wrong when he shot the two children as they were leaving their school.

"He yelled that they were going to die," Alexis King said. "He knew it was wrong, and his behavior can't be excused."

Prosecutors said Eastwood approached a group of students and asked, "Do you like going to this school?" before shooting student Reagan Weber in the arm.

He then aimed at Matt Thieu, who was running away, prosecutors said. Thieu suffered a chest wound the size of a saucer plate.

Teachers David Benke and Norm Hanne were hailed as heroes for tackling the shooter and holding him until deputies arrived.

At issue during the trial was whether Eastwood knew the difference between right and wrong at the time of the shootings.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Jensen said testimony indicated that Eastwood knew it was wrong to take his father's gun. After the shooting, Jensen said that during two hours of videotaped questioning with investigators, Eastwood repeatedly said he knew what he did was wrong, that he had hatred and anger.

"We had a videotape where we covered extensively the defendant's state and whether he knew the difference between right and wrong," Jensen said.

But Jensen said that state law prohibits the prosecutors' own doctor from personally examining a defendant on behalf of prosecutors. Three other doctors who examined Eastwood testified that he was legally insane.

Dr. Steven Pitt, who studied the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, testified that there were several indications that Eastwood was sane but that he couldn't render a final opinion about whether Eastwood could distinguish right from wrong because Pitt hadn't personally interviewed Eastwood.

"The first question the jury sent out was, `Why didn't Dr. Pitt interview the defendant?'" Jensen said, adding that the judge could not legally explain why. "So this left a bit of a void ... Obviously this had a big impact."