Judge recuses herself from case of younger STEM School shooting suspect

The Douglas County District Court judge assigned to oversee the cases of the two suspects in the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting recused herself from one of them, though it remains unclear why.

Judge Theresa Slade took herself off the case of 16-year-old Alec McKinney, who faces a first-degree murder charge in connection with the shooting that killed one student and injured eight others. Slade remains the judge for the case of the other teen charged in the shooting.

Her recusal was revealed at a court hearing Friday for McKinney, but 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler said he could not discuss why Slade moved off the case because the file remains hidden from public view.

“That’s something that is going to have to wait until the court makes more information public, that is not something I can discuss,” he said.

McKinney and his co-defendant, 18-year-old Devon Erickson, both face 48 criminal charges, including first-degree murder and arson, in connection with the May 7 shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch. Their schoolmate Kendrick Castillo died in the shooting a week before he was slated to graduate.

During the two-hour hearing Friday, the new judge on McKinney’s case, Jeffrey Holmes, weighed numerous requests from the defense and prosecution regarding evidence, including statements made to police by McKinney.

Defense attorney Ara Ohanian requested that the courtroom for the Friday hearing and all subsequent hearings be closed to the public. Ohanian also requested the McKinney’s court file remain suppressed and said that if the files were released, the teen would not have a chance for a fair trial and insinuated that he would have to request a change of venue.

Brauchler said he was not opposed to the suppression of parts of the file until a hearing determining whether McKinney’s case will remain in adult court or be transferred back to juvenile court. That hearing has been scheduled for November.

Holmes denied the defense attorney’s request that the courtroom be closed to the public, but upheld the suppression of most of the information in the case until that hearing.

“The community does have an interest in these proceedings,” Holmes said to a courtroom packed with parents, students and teachers from STEM School. McKinney’s mother sat in the front row behind the defense table. Castillo’s parents sat behind the prosecutors.

Ohanian also requested that the court impose a protective order against reporters that would prohibit them from contacting McKinney. The judge denied that request as well.

McKinney is next scheduled to appear in court at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 18 for consecutive hearings that could last up to seven days.

The court will first conduct a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough probable cause to continue with the felony charges in the case.

If the judge determines the case can move on, the court will immediately begin a separate proceeding, known as a reverse-transfer hearing, to determine whether the case should remain in adult court or be moved back to juvenile court.

In the meantime, attorneys on both sides will continue to sift through hundreds of hours of video and thousands of pages of evidence.

Erickson is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 24 for his preliminary hearing. Neither suspects’ arrest affidavits have been released to the public due to both the cases being suppressed. Information about motive, weapons and what happened inside the school that day remains unclear.

Both suspects remain in custody.

The shooting has prompted Douglas County leaders to consider spending millions on school safety, mental health services and additional school resource officers.

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