By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - A transgender teenager accused of opening fire with a friend in a Denver-area charter school in May to exact revenge on classmates who bullied him pleaded guilty on Friday to murder and attempted murder charges, prosecutors said.
Alec McKinney, 16, who has been held without bond since the May 7 rampage that left one student dead and eight others wounded, pleaded guilty to 17 criminal counts, including conspiracy and weapons charges, said Douglas County District Attorney George Brauchler.
McKinney is accused along with Devon Erickson, 19, of carrying out the shooting at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
An 18-year-old student, Kendrick Castillo, was fatally shot when he charged one of the shooters, police said.
The Colorado Public Defender’s Office, which represents McKinney said it does not comment on its cases outside court.
Erickson pleaded not guilty last month to 44 felony counts and is set to go on trial in May.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit, the pair armed themselves with three handguns and a 22-caliber rifle stolen from a gun safe owned by Erickson’s parents.
Both teens consumed cocaine before storming the school, the affidavit said.
McKinney was born female and told police he was in a “pre-op transitioning phase,” and planned the shooting to get back at classmates who had bullied him for being transgender, according to court documents.
McKinney said he had enlisted Erickson to help him carry out the plot, police said.
In December, McKinney’s lawyers unsuccessfully argued to have his case transferred to juvenile court, arguing that he had a troubled childhood, including witnessing domestic violence by his father against his mother.
In denying that motion, Judge Philip Holmes said in a written order that while McKinney “has experienced serious trauma in his life,” the alleged crimes were so serious that he should be tried as an adult.
McKinney, who is scheduled to be sentenced on May 18, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving 40 years of his term because he was a juvenile when the crimes were committed.
Erickson, who was an adult when the crimes were committed, faces life without the possibility of parole if he is convicted of murder, or the death penalty if prosecutors decide to seek capital punishment.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; editing by Bill Tarrant, Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)