Teenager Recounts Shooting Rampage -- Four Jurors Replaced For Variety Of Reasons
Seattle Times Staff Reporter
A teenage girl broke into tears as she testified how her 14-year-old classmate stormed into her junior-high-school classroom with a loaded rifle and opened fire.
And a male juror blacked out as a prosecutor described the carnage in the Moses Lake classroom on the day of the attack - Feb. 2, 1996.
The juror's fainting spell and the witness' testimony caused unsettling breaks yesterday in the opening of the aggravated-first-degree murder trial of Barry Loukaitis, charged with shooting and killing two students and a math teacher last year. Today, the juror was excused and replaced, along with three other jurors - excused for a variety of reasons. One alternate juror remains available.
The dark-haired, slight-built Loukaitis, dressed in a white shirt and cream-colored casual pants, barely raised his head - his hands rested on his forehead and covered his eyes most of the time - as the prosecution and his own lawyer gave opening statements, and as the first three witnesses took the stand in a packed courtroom in the King County Courthouse.
The teen, now 16 but being tried as an adult, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The trial, moved to King County because of extensive news coverage of the case in rural Grant County, is expected to last at least four weeks.
In his opening statement, Grant County Prosecutor John Knodell offered a pointed summation: "It's about a very, very angry, angry young man who coldly and methodically avenged himself upon the world by murdering three people, maiming a fourth, and terrorizing and holding hostage a classroom."
Knodell told jury that Loukaitis despised his father, envied popular kids in his school, "and in a number of ways was angry at the girls he thought were rude to him."
He also said the teen was captivated by violent movies and literature - particularly books by author Stephen King, including King's "Rage," a novel in which a student kills his math teacher and holds the class hostage.
However, Seattle attorney Michele Shaw, representing Loukaitis, maintained that her client is a victim of bipolar personality disorder, a mental illness similar to manic depression.
"The real issue in this case is why did Barry Loukaitis do something so tragically bizarre, and was it motivated by mental illness?" she said, framing the issue for the jury.
"Insanity is the only explanation for this incident," she said.
Loukaitis, who was an honors student at Moses Lake's Frontier Junior High School, is accused in the slaying of students Manuel Vela and Arnold Fritz, both 14, and algebra teacher Leona Caireks. Another classmate, Natalie Hintz, was shot and is recovering from her wounds.
Loukaitis also is accused of holding a roomful of other students hostage during the attack.
Yesterday, Hintz, the first to testify, recounted how Loukaitis abruptly entered the math class with the rifle.
"As I recall it, the door swung open, and I slowly looked up, and I saw somebody in a long trench coat and a cowboy hat, and in the air I saw a long, big rifle, and my first instinct was `Was this really happening, was it real?' " she said. "He walked in, turned to the first row (of students) and started shooting."
Hintz said she and the two students were shot, then Loukaitis turned the rifle on the teacher. She said her arm was effectively severed when a bullet went through her back and came out through her arm. She said she still does not have use of her right hand and has numerous scars from the bullet and subsequent surgeries.
"The only way I can describe it is pure terror and confusion," she said. Her tearful testimony prompted visiting Kittitas County Judge Michael Cooper to call for a break in the trial.
Earlier, the judge had halted the prosecutor's opening statement when a juror fell forward in his seat, and medics were called. But the judge later denied a defense motion that a mistrial be declared or that the juror be removed and substituted with an alternate. ----------------------------------------------------------------- Charles E. Brown's phone message number is 206-464-2206. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
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