DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. – The second of two gunmen who was convicted in June for his role in the 2019 STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting that left Kendrick Castillo dead and eight others injured was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole by a Douglas County judge early Friday evening.
During closing remarks before the sentencing was handed down, Judge Theresa Slade said she considered the crime committed by 20-year-old Devon Erickson "so heinous and so far reaching" that it warranted life without parole just for the first two counts involving the murder of 18-year-old Kendrick, who along with two other students, charged Erickson as he opened fire inside a classroom on May 7, 2019.
Slade also added an additional 1,282.5 years to his sentence – some of which will run concurrently to the more than three dozen charges he was found guilty of, including 31 counts of attempted murder, conspiracy, burglary, and arson as well as two misdemeanors.
“On one side it’s bittersweet, it’s cathartic,” said Kendrick’s father, John Castillo, who spoke following the sentencing. “But when we leave, we’re going home to an empty home without our son and that’s the reality.”
For about two hours Friday, survivors of the shooting spoke about the harrowing experience of that day and the psychological and physical scars they have to deal every day more than two years after the shooting.
One of the most gut-wrenching impact statements came from Lauren Harper, a teacher in Room 107, where the shooting occurred.
“I have become afraid of my students. Students who I would never second-guess before now scare me, and in the same way I have lost my trust in them,” said Harper, her voice breaking as she delivered her remarks. “I watch every sudden movement and also when a student leaves the room, I guard the door - even while I’m still talking to make sure that nothing is ever brought back in ever again. This is my daily routine.”
Maria Castillo, Kendrick’s mother, was the last one to speak before the defense called on their own witnesses, including friends and family members of the shooter, as they pleaded with Slade to consider their statements. Through tears, Maria condemned the shooter for taking her only child.
“It has been more than two years and I’ve been in this court room for every court proceeding, sitting in the front row… looking at this demonic killer, and he shows no remorse,” Maria said. “He’s a cold-blooded killer, a coward, a loser, a domestic terrorist, and he deserves no mercy.”
That sentiment was mirrored by every survivor who spoke before the judge, asking her to hand down the maximum sentence as they argued the shooter had not shown any remorse and could no longer be rehabilitated.
“Judge, this defendant deserves the maximum sentence and that's the message that will be reported, beyond this courtroom, beyond this courthouse, beyond this county to the world,” said former 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler. “When you do something like this, with hatred in your heart and remorselessness, this is the sentence you can expect from the system, because we can't get back Kendrick.”
In closing statements, Judge Slade told the convicted gunman he had a chance to answer a simple question in a pre-sentence investigation report: “Why did this happen?”
“There was nothing substantive in there. There was nothing. There was a shell,” Slade said. “The times that you have made statements of any kind were manipulative, at best.”
She said Friday was the first time in two-and-half years she had seen the gunman show any kind of emotion, and only when his family spoke about the things he was going to lose because of the sentence that awaited him, had she him seen cry.
During the trial, the gunman’s attorney’s argued that he was pressured into participating in the shooting by his fellow teen suspect, Alec McKinney, who pleaded guilty in February 2020 and received a sentence of life in prison the following July.
Prosecutors said the gunman, who was 19 years old at the time of the shooting, and his co-conspirator, who was 16, were partners in a "shared scheme" to carry out the shooting, pointing to evidence that showed both had staged a Snapchat video in which McKinney was yelling at Erickson to open a gun safe at his home on the day of the shooting. McKinney testified that the teens had filmed two prior versions of the video but did not think it would be believable.
“If there’s any message that I want to clearly convey today is that the violence that you planned and executed on May 7… it should never have happened. It should never be repeated. It should never happen again,” Slade said, before handing down the sentence.