Thousands of pages in evidence under review in STEM shooting case

Shooting suspect appears in court as defense, prosecutors debate time needed to assess discovery

Posted 6/7/19

The older suspect charged in the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting case appeared before a judge for a brief hearing June 7 in a courtroom filled with supporters of Kendrick Castillo's parents, …

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Thousands of pages in evidence under review in STEM shooting case

Shooting suspect appears in court as defense, prosecutors debate time needed to assess discovery

Posted

The older suspect charged in the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting case appeared before a judge for a brief hearing June 7 in a courtroom filled with supporters of Kendrick Castillo's parents, also in attendance.

Castillo was the sole fatality in the May 7 tragedy that left eight other students injured. Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler estimated 75 people were in the courtroom or in an overflow area in support of the Castillo family.

The suspected school shooter's appearance and demeanor changed from his previous hearings. Gone was the shaggy hair died half-black and half-pink. He didn't crumple in his seat with his head hung low, as he had in his first appearance. Instead, his hair was brown and neatly trimmed. He sat upright.

In the front row of the galley sat members of his family, who hugged and looked on at their shackled son, 18-year-old Devon Erickson, although he did not appear to interact with them. Behind the Ericksons sat a row of STEM school and Castillo supporters.

Among them was  Heather Rhoads, whose daughter is a sophomore at STEM.  They came after seeing a request on social media for people to attend in support of the Castillos, and because of their daughter.

"Our daughter had a really hard time with everything that's been going on," Rhoads said. "No longer feeling safe." 

Rhoads did not wish to name her daughter but said she was in a classroom nearby the site of the shooting when it unfolded. As the students went into lockdown, turning off all lights, her daughter waited with her back to the door until SWAT teams entered the room.

"She remembers hearing the door open and not knowing who it was. I think she's most scared by that," she said. 

The presence from members of the STEM community showed the intense interest in the case, Brauchler said.

The purpose of the proceeding was to schedule a preliminary hearing for Erickson, who faced 48 charges going into his previous hearing, according to court records made available online at the time.

His co-defendant, 16-year-old Alec McKinney, faced the same number and similar charges. The 16-year-old is scheduled to appear for a similar hearing later this month.

The case has been suppressed, meaning documents like the arrest affidavit and formal charges remain sealed, and attorneys are tight-lipped in confirming details not discussed in open court.

District Court Judge Theresa Slade was expected to rule on pending motions in the case later in the day, which could result in the release of case files, but Brauchler was not sure if that would happen.

In court, defense attorneys requested Slade schedule the next court appearance in the fall, suggesting an October date. They needed time, they said, to evaluate “the sheer volume” of discovery turned over to them by prosecutors.

That includes more than 6,000 pages of PDF documents and hundreds of gigabytes of media evidence such as video and audio of interviews, body camera and dash camera footage.

Brauchler said it should not take so long for defense attorneys, who he referred to as “high-quality, well-experienced” attorneys, to evaluate discovery.

“I think that's excessive,” he told the judge of their request. “A preliminary hearing is not a trial.”

In preliminary hearings, a judge could determine issues around bond and will decide if probable cause exists in the case. Slade set the next hearing for late September and reserved three days for the proceedings.

Before settling on dates, she asked attorneys how long the preliminary hearing would take. Although Brauchler said half a day at most, defense attorneys said two to three days.

Brauchler spoke with reporters following the hearing where he repeated his belief it should not take months for discovery evaluation.

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