Loukaitis Gets Two Life Terms Plus 205 Years -- `I Feel The Guilt Of Being Alive,' Says Survivor Of Attack That Killed 3
EPHRATA - Barry Loukaitis was sentenced yesterday to two consecutive terms of life without hope of parole plus nearly 205 years for a 1996 junior-high attack that killed two classmates and a teacher.
The mandatory life terms and additional penalties were imposed on the 16-year-old Loukaitis after emotional testimony from the victims' families.
Also testifying were Natalie Hintz, just 13 when she was critically wounded in the shootings, two other girls who were in the classroom and the defendant's father.
Loukaitis was pale and seemed exhausted as he sat in the crowded Grant County Superior Court room in a gray sweat suit, handcuffs and ankle chains.
He bowed his head as the representatives of each family spoke, some reading letters from other family members.
"Hi," wrote Nicolas Vela, now 11, whose 14-year-old brother, Manuel, was the first person shot by Loukaitis during his fifth-period algebra class at Moses Lake's Frontier Junior High on Feb. 2, 1996.
"I was 9 years old when my brother was murdered," said the boy in a letter read by his father. "I'm still sleeping in my parents' room at night," fearful that Loukaitis might hurt him as well.
Vela's father, also named Manuel Vela, said if it were up to him, Loukaitis would have been sentenced to death - an option not considered because of the defendant's age.
Loukaitis was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder in the deaths of his two classmates, of second-degree murder in the death of his teacher, as well as assault for wounding Hintz and kidnapping counts relating to other children in the class.
The family of Arnold Fritz, 14 - who sat behind Vela and was the second person shot - was represented by his mother, Alice Fritz, who read letters from the boy's three older sisters.
Fritz then urged Kittitas County Superior Court Judge Michael Cooper to help Loukaitis by placing him in a treatment facility until he is 21 - for accurate diagnosis and to help ensure he is "mature enough to accept his future."
Loukaitis, 14 at the time of the attack, had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. While jurors rejected the plea, psychiatrists on both sides agreed the boy suffers from depressive illness.
The five-week trial was held in Seattle because of the heavy publicity the case received in Grant County. Loukaitis, who was tried as an adult because of the seriousness of the crime, was convicted Sept. 24.
The Fritzes' three daughters all wrote that they had forgiven Loukaitis and hoped he can one day forgive himself.
"If I let myself hate you, I wouldn't be the kind of person my brother would want me to be," Nyla Fritz wrote.
"Barry, you didn't give me a chance to say good-bye to my wife," said Stephen Caires, the former Frontier vice principal whose wife Leona, the algebra teacher, was Loukaitis' final victim.
Hintz - who sat behind Vela and Fritz and was critically injured by Loukaitis' third shot - said she had forgiven him but considered a life sentence just punishment.
"You have condemned my classmates and I to a life sentence," she said.
Another student, Jennie Luiten, said witnessing the attack had changed her life forever.
"Every day still I feel the guilt of being alive. . . . Every time I see someone in a trench coat, my heart skips a beat," she said, referring to the long black coat Loukaitis wore over all-black western gear and three firearms on the day of the shootings.
While Loukaitis himself did not speak, defense lawyer Mike Frost said he feels "great remorse about what happened . . . and he still doesn't know why it happened."
He attributed the attack to Loukaitis' depressive illness.
"There are things in life we're never going to understand, and this case is one of those," Frost said, noting that its "impact on the lives of others is really beyond words."
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