STEM shooting suspect's lawyers want case moved back to juvenile court

16-year-old will be back in court in November

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The younger suspect in the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting was back in court June 14, where attorneys continued their efforts to transfer his case out of adult court and back to juvenile court.

Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler chose to charge 16-year-old Alec McKinney as an adult in May, saying then he planned to charge the teenager with first-degree murder. Defense attorneys immediately voiced their hope to have his case returned to juvenile court.

McKinney was charged along with Devon Erickson, 18, on suspicion of carrying out the May 7 shooting that left senior Kendrick Castillo dead and eight more students injured. Court records made available online last month showed the suspects faced 48 charges each. Erickson was in court one week earlier.

The case has been suppressed, meaning documents detailing allegations against the suspect and their formal charges have not been released.

During the June 14 hearing in Castle Rock, District Court Judge Jeffrey Holmes set a preliminary hearing and reverse transfer hearing for the teenager in November, setting aside one week for the proceedings.

Defense attorneys had requested two weeks and that the appearance not take place until January. Their position was similar to what defense attorneys said when the preliminary hearing for the older suspect was scheduled.

They needed time, said lawyers for both suspects, because of the sheer volume of discovery they will be assessing in the weeks to come.

Ara Ohanian, McKinney's public defender, said his team received 21,000 files and 600 hours of audio and video footage. They were expecting five times as much discovery would be provided to them by the FBI in the future.

It would all take months, he said, to analyze and prepare for a preliminary hearing — the proceeding where a judge determines if there is probable cause in a case. Erickson's preliminary hearing was scheduled for three days in late September by a different judge.

Brauchler said the numbers given by Ohanian could be misleading. Much of the information in discovery would repeat itself and it includes footage from dash cameras or body cameras that would not need long to assess, such as vehicles that sat parked at the scene or officers walking the school grounds.

He'd argued the week before and on June 14 that a preliminary trial is not a “mini-trial” and requires less preparation than a trial itself, something Holmes echoed.

Defense attorneys also requested the court hearings for the juvenile suspect be closed to the public moving forward but their request was denied. Holmes said in front of a galley filled with STEM School supporters, including Kendrick Castillo's parents, that the public had a significant interest in the case. He also said the defendant was entitled to open court hearings.

“This is still a criminal case,” he said.

He agreed to keep the case suppressed for the time being. If or when case files will be released remains unclear.

Holmes was not the original judge presiding over McKinney's case. District Court Judge Theresa Slade recused herself from the case, though she remains the judge presiding over the Erickson's proceedings.

The reason for her recusal was not explained in court on June 14. Brauchler declined to say why the judge was changed when asked by reporters following the hearing because the case is suppressed.

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