Teenager Who Killed His Father and a 6-Year-Old Is Sentenced to Life Without Parole

Emily S. Rueb and Sandra E. Garcia

A South Carolina teenager who in 2016, at age 14, killed his father before driving to an elementary school and fatally shooting a 6-year-old boy and injuring two other people was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole.

After a judge decided that the gunman, Jesse Dewitt Osborne, now 17, should be tried as an adult, he pleaded guilty in December 2018 to two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder.

On Thursday, Circuit Court Judge R. Lawton McIntosh in Anderson County, South Carolina, handed down the sentence after three days of special hearings during which mental health professionals and family members, including Osborne’s grandfather and half brother, spoke to Osborne’s age and maturity at the time of the crimes, his home and family life, his psychological state, his awareness of legal rights and the chance for rehabilitation.

“One of the great concerns to me is that you lack remorse,” the judge said to Osborne.

Moments before, Osborne told the judge: “I wish this would have never happened. I don’t know how I did this.” He acknowledged that he needed help, and told the judge, “I’ll do whatever you say.”

Osborne’s lawyer, Frank L. Eppes, told reporters after the sentencing that the case would be appealed.

Eppes declined to say what he hoped McIntosh would have decided Thursday. But he said that “the issue of giving juveniles life sentences is a very complicated issue.”

“Hopefully at this point, many of the people who have been devastated by this tragedy will be able to get beyond it, and it will make their lives better that this part of Jesse Osborne’s story has come to its conclusion,” he said.

The prosecutor in the case, David Wagner, said in an interview that prosecutors had sought a sentence of life without parole because “you don’t get much worse than going and shooting elementary school kids on a playground.”

“He did a horrible thing and he’s a horrible person,” Wagner said.

The hearings, which were livestreamed by local news outlets, were required by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling intended to prevent juveniles who commit severe crimes from receiving mandatory or arbitrary life sentences without consideration for their circumstances and maturity.

What emerged were two opposing portraits of Osborne. Some described him as an isolated schoolboy who had been bullied but who could be treated. Others depicted him as a dangerous criminal who chillingly planned gruesome events and who would have little hope for rehabilitation.

On Sept. 28, 2016, Osborne fatally shot his 47-year-old father, Jeffrey Osborne, with a gun his father kept at his bedside. He then stole his father’s truck and drove 3 miles to the elementary school he once attended. Osborne walked onto the playground at Townville Elementary School and shot two boys and a teacher with his father’s handgun, killing 6-year-old Jacob Hall.

Prosecutors seeking a life sentence for the boy, who turned 14 just days before the killings, presented hundreds of videos and social media messages showing that the shooting was premeditated.

Osborne had been part of online communities devoted to the discussion of mass murderers, and had researched other school shootings, including Columbine in Colorado and Sandy Hook in Connecticut, according to the testimony of Detective McKindra Bibb, of the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.

Osborne also kept a collage of several of the 20 first graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary on his cellphone, Bibb testified.

In one video showed at the hearing, Osborne combed his hair on the day of the attack, saying you “got to have your hair straight when you’re going to shoot up a place. Got to look fabulous.”

Family members, including Osborne’s half brother, Ryan Brock, 22, described a tumultuous home life, in which Jeffrey Osborne drank heavily and abused Jesse Osborne.

The father and son “were very constantly at each other’s throats,” Brock said. “I could hear the screams all the way throughout the house.” On Wednesday, Jesse Osborne’s grandfather, Tommy Osborne, testified that his grandson spent 13 to 14 hours a day alone in his basement room after being expelled from school for bringing a hatchet.

On Thursday, school administrators, a teacher who was shot and relatives of Jacob Hall, described the terror they experienced.

The school’s principal, Denise Fredericks, said justice would be served if Osborne spent the rest of his life in prison.

“This day forever changed every person in the Anderson school district,” said the district’s superintendent, Joanne Avery.

Jacob Hall’s mother, Renae Hall, organized a superhero-themed funeral for her son, which drew about 1,000 mourners dressed as Superman, Ninja Turtles and Batman.

On Thursday, Hall said that she had struggled with drug addiction since his death, but that she forgave Osborne.

“I pray for peace and that justice is served today,” she said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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