Through sobs and tears, convicted STEM School Highlands Ranch killer Alec McKinney testified Wednesday that videos he made of Devon Erickson before the school shooting, and the details McKinney later gave police, were all part of a plan for McKinney to take the blame.
Recanting it all for the first time, McKinney said much of the plan to gun down students at the school on May 7, 2019, was Erickson’s and that it was McKinney’s intent to die as well.
McKinney, who began his testimony late Tuesday afternoon, also described how he emptied a 9-shot revolver into the darkened classroom that day, shooting anything that moved while Erickson fired from across the room as well, and continued to pull the trigger after the ammunition had run out.
In step-by-step testimony to a Douglas County District Court jury, prosecutors had McKinney describe how the two went to Erickson’s Highlands Ranch home to break into his father’s gun safe and filmed McKinney threatening Erickson to do it, as well as forcing him to snort cocaine.
“It was something we staged doing, making it look like I was making Devon do the cocaine… me acting like I’m trying to make Devon open the safe,” McKinney testified. “So the event would look like I forced Devon into all of this.”
McKinney said he deleted two other videos they had made because they were not convincing enough, including one in which the pair were laughing too much.
McKinney previously testified that the plan was for Erickson to gun down his partner after the shooting so he could be seen as a hero.
Instead, students tackled Erickson nearly instantly – one student, Kendrick Castillo, died in that altercation – and McKinney initially was disarmed after unloading the revolver, grabbing a second gun and trying to kill himself. A school security guard disarmed and detained McKinney.
After the shooting stopped, Erickson had said it was McKinney who set up the whole thing and forced him into it, telling people to check McKinney’s cell phone, where the videos were stored.
And when police interviewed McKinney in the hours after the shooting, he told them that he was the instigator and pressed Erickson into it. All of it, however, was a lie, McKinney testified.
“At that time I was still going along with the plan Devon and I had made to blame it all on me,” McKinney said. “Now that I’m sober and under oath, that’s not accurate.”
Erickson, 20, faces life in prison without parole if convicted on any of two first-degree felony murder charges, or a lengthy prison term on any of more than 40 other charges he faces in connection with the attack that left Castillo dead and eight other students wounded.
McKinney, 18, is serving a life term plus 38 years after pleading guilty to felony murder and more than a dozen other charges last year. Because he was 16 at the time and a juvenile, the law requires him to be eligible for parole after 40 years.
In the first public testimony about how the pair chose to kill classmates they disliked, McKinney soberingly and with pause only to sob and sniffle quietly walked jurors through the day that began with cocaine at about 7 a.m. and ended in bloodshed about six hours later.
“I remember still putting out the plan, texting him I couldn’t do it without him,” McKinney said of text messages they exchanged in the school. “It would sound more so that I was forcing him to do it.”
He has said Erickson initially talked of killing someone and getting away with it, then formulated the plan to shoot up the classroom together.
Defense attorneys, however, say it was McKinney who manipulated Erickson and threatened to kill him if he backed out.
During questioning Wednesday, they focused on McKinney’s police interviews, during which he blamed the shooting on voices he had been hearing since age 11.
“You stopped taking medication because you wanted to hear the voices more, didn’t you?” defense attorney Julia Stancil asked. “That you were lonely and liked the voices being there?”
Stancil also noted that McKinney also told the security guard who disarmed him that “the voices are getting louder; they’re going to get you; they have more guns than you.”
McKinney said he frequently did not take medications he was on, but did not recall the specific reason why, and didn’t recall what he told the security guard.
“As I give this testimony, I am mentally stable and taking my medication regularly,” McKinney said.
Stancil also implied McKinney’s sudden mental stability was a way to enter a prison rehabilitation program in which he could be paroled after 20 years rather than 40.
McKinney said he was unclear about the program or his ability to qualify for it.
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