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Sentencing Hearing for School Shooter

Aired August 15, 2002 - 16:45   ET


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Back now to a courtroom in El Cajon, California, where defense lawyers for 16-year-old Charles Andy Williams urging a judge to apply the minimum sentence of 50 years in a school shooting March 2001 that left two dead and 13 wounded -- the defense attorneys now reading testimonials as they make their case.
Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... this type of behavior in the future.

They were interested in him. Andy Williams didn't fit the school-shooter profile. He had never shown any propensity for violence, nor any delinquent conduct his entire life prior to his move to Santee. Andy did leave Brunswick, Maryland. He moved to Twentynine Palms, California, in his eighth-grade year, another small, rural community. His grandparents lived there. And Andy continued to be a model child there.

I'd like to address some of the letters that people from Twentynine Palms wrote to this court about Andy.

"Charles Andrew Williams was an outstanding student during his eighth-grade year at Twentynine Palms Junior High School. While in the classroom, Andy consistently participated in class with a great deal of enthusiasm, raising his hand to answer questions and working efficiently in cooperative learning situations.

"Andy was always courteous and cooperative toward his classmates and myself in class. Academically, he was a B student, while showing a lot of effort to do well in class. He was never confrontational with staff or faculty. His interactions with fellow classmates were almost always positive and mutually respectful.

"I would have to say that Andy Williams was probably one of the more popular students during his eighth-grade year. He played on our football team and was active in our school's performing arts club. I still vividly remember his performance in the play 'You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.' Andy was a positive factor in almost every situation he was placed in, in our school" -- Jason Moyer Schmidt (ph), eighth- grade science teacher, Twentynine Palms Junior High School.

"I only knew Andy from church. But I knew him to be a happy person. Andy always had a big smile on his face. He was always so positive and upbeat. He got to be known as the joker in the group. Shortly after winter camp, Andy rededicated his life to the Lord and was baptized. He took part in our youth service and led Sunday morning service. He opened the church in prayer and gave a little sermonette.

"He did an awesome job. I remember being so proud because he had worked so hard on the scripture and its life application. He spoke with such clarity and authority. I loved his spirit, because he was so encouraging to others" -- Adella R. Tilly (ph), youth director, Twentynine Palms, First Baptist Church.

Andy Williams' secure world was never the same after he moved away from Twentynine Palms. We will probably never know exactly why Andy committed these horrible crimes, but we do have some insight into the multiplicity of factors that contributed to his terrible decision.

I want to talk about why this happened. I base this on my conversations with Andy, as well as our evaluators, Dr. Scott and Dr. Friedman's (ph) conversations with him. This is not to justify but only to try to explain.

Santee was very large and a very urban. It's a small cry from the real communities of Brunswick and Twentynine Palms where Andy had grown up. Andy didn't know anyone in Santee and he moved there shortly before school started and he was very sad about leaving his friends in Brunswick where he had spent the summer just prior to moving.

Neither Andy nor his father for the very first time in their lives had any network or family support in the community of Santee. These factors plus Andy's natural adolescent need for independence and the fact that he wasn't playing organized sports for the first time in six years, created a situation where Andy pulled away from his father, I think both physically and emotionally.

But Andy still had a great need for acceptance. He settled for what sense of belonging was most readily available to him at the time and that was a group of dysfunctional kids that he'd met at a skate park in his neighborhood.

He began smoking marijuana and skipping school with them. This group of friends was not like any friends Andy had in Brunswick or Twentynine Palms. They made fun of him, his small stature, his small town upbringing, his voice, his clothes, and they quickly learned that Andy Williams had never really had to stand up for himself before.

Andy began to take physical abuse at the hands of these so-called friends. He had no clue on how to cope with it or how to deal with it. It was something that he had never been involved with in the small towns that he'd grown up in.

Andy still had a strong need for acceptance. He continued to associate with these kids. He would smile like it didn't matter and internalize all his emotions. Andy's unhappiness grew. For the first time in his life, he wasn't doing well in school and he was being disciplined at the high school for his excessive absences. When his father learned that Andy wasn't going to school on a regular basis, he became livid. He chastised his son. He grounded his son. By the time the Christmas break of 2000 rolled around, Andy's self concept was deteriorating rapidly. He was lonely, alienated, feeling worthless, but he still had that ability to effectively internalize these feelings and hide the pain he was feeling.

Dr. Scott describes for the court in his evaluation that this was the first period in Andy's life that he was in severe depression. Andy longed for his former friends and fantasized about returning to the small nurturing communities he'd grown up in.

Andy did find some relief over that Christmas holiday before the shooting. He flew to South Carolina and visited his mother and brother. He thoroughly enjoyed their visit. It was a nurturing time but he returned to Santee in January and seemed to sink deeper in his depression.

Andy had a best friend in Twentynine Palms. His name was Brian Burdett (ph). Brian was killed by a bus on February 7th, the day before Andy's birthday. Andy felt that he couldn't take it anymore after that. His friends in Santee had no sympathy for Andy's loss. They laughed and teased him about the way Brian died.

At this point in time, Andy felt that he couldn't even talk to his father about it. Andy Williams began imagining his own death with thoughts of how dying would provide an escape from the life that he had come to despise. In his desperation, he planned to run away with a friend by the name of Josh. Apparently Josh changed his mind at the last minute, but he told this crowd that it was Andy who didn't have the guts to go through it, who was afraid to go through with it.

Andy was further labeled with names. He was a woos, someone who just never followed through on his claims. This caused him addition ridicule by these so-called friends. His safe worlds of Brunswick and Twentynine Palms were now totally disappeared and he felt completely alone and depressed in Santee.

The Friday before the Monday shooting, Andy was in class. He was unprepared, and in a class that he really liked. He was lectured by his teacher in front of the whole class and he was humiliated, and it was that afternoon that he began to fantasize about taking a gun to school.

He came to be a very depressed boy who lost all feeling of self worth. He desperately wanted to extricate himself from the nightmare he believed his life had become. Taking a gun to school seemed like the way out. He would be caught or arrested or even killed by police officers, and at the time, each alternative seemed better than the loneliness, pain, and ridicule that he was feeling.

About a month after this incident when he was incarcerated in Juvenile Hall, Andy wrote a letter in the form of a poem to a friend. That letter was intercepted by Juvenile Hall staff and it was forwarded to the D.A.'s Office and ultimately it came back to me. I believe that that poem does express how Andy was feeling at about the time of this incident, and I would like to read it for the court right now.

March 5, 2001 There was a kid who had a gun He finally decided he had nothing to lose People all over Saw him on the news Two people dead, 13 people hurt. One stupid decision cut three people's lives short.

He's getting tried as an adult. He is a 15-year-old kid He is sorry, he is sorry, he should never did what he did

He thought nobody loved him, got messed with every day He didn't like Santee and he didn't want to stay He would hurt emotionally, bruised to the touch For every one person who hated him, four loved him very much He didn't find out until it was too late If he had a time machine, he'd go back to that date Instead of shooting a gun he would shoot a smile But now it's too late, two people dead, one locked up wishing someone said they loved him instead of making him feel dumb Santana High still and numb A nation is sending out their forgiveness and sorrow But he will be locked up today and tomorrow That kid screwed up was something that shouldn't ever be That kid, well that kid, was me Charles "Andy" Williams

I told Andy when I met him back in March, 2001 that he couldn't go back. He had to move forward. I wanted him to be as positive as he could in Juvenile Hall. He cried many times during our early visits, not just for himself but I think for the very first time, this 15-year-old boy was coming to the realization of what death really meant, of what he had done, how truly permanent it was. He cried for his victims and he cried for the loss he caused his own family.

Andy Williams was ready to plead guilty before this court way back then. I told him that the constitutional issues regarding the proposition were just too important, that we'd have to litigate them first. Andy told me that he would do well in Juvenile Hall.

This is the variety of the probation officers and Juvenile Hall staff who supervised Andy over the last 17 months. This is what they have to say about Andy.

Mathilda Cosas (ph), Supervising Probation Officer in Juvenile Hall, she described Williams as a well-behaved detainee who complies with rules and shows respects for peers and adults. Cosas stated Williams has matured a lot since being in the hall. He's not started any fights and he has learned how to handle stress appropriately.

Guadalupe Frabago (ph), Probation Officer, Juvenile Hall: Frabago described Andy in terms of his behavior as one of the best kids in the unit. He characterized Andy as always willing to help without asking for anything in return. Andy was constantly helping others. Frabago concluded by saying he always respected Andy because Andy always respected him.

Marissa Tores (ph), Probation Officer, Juvenile Hall: She described Andy as a no problem detainee. Tores noted that Andy has matured and adjusted well over his time in the hall. Andy is friendly to all and goes out of his way to befriend those individuals who were singled out by the others, such as one young man who, when nobody else would, Andy would be the one to sit with him during recreation time to talk and exchange books. Tores states that Andy was very respectful to staff and appeared compassionate and caring toward the others.

Christopher Ronald (ph), Probation Officer, Juvenile Hall stated: "Williams is one of the best detainees in Unit 1800." Ronald further states: "Not only does Williams participate in unit activities but he shows enthusiasm for the activity and tries to get others to enjoy and involved in those activities also."

Brad Smith (ph), Probation Officer, Juvenile Hall: "Andy gets along with peers and staff. He's also very respectful." Smith stated: "Andy seems to have good morals and is honest." Based on his interactions with Andy in referring to this crime, Smith added: "It's hard to picture him doing something like that."

Scott Hoosier (ph), Probation Officer, Juvenile Hall: Hoosier related that despite Andy going through a tough time, he seemed to be a well-balanced kid who has tried to turn a bad into a good. He concluded by stating: "Andy is trying to be a better person."

Tim Hancock (ph), Probation Officer, Juvenile Hall says: "Williams seeks out opportunities to help others and does this without being asked." Hancock particularly recalls Andy befriending another detainee and basically becoming that boy's mentor. "Williams is always pleasant and tries to lift the spirits of others by making them laugh." He described Andy as an easygoing kid who has taken a lot of positive steps since he's been in Juvenile Hall.

Chester Jellin (ph), Probation Officer, Juvenile Hall described Andy as a model detainee and a pleasure to be with. He added that Andy befriends the strong and the weak alike.

Juvenile Hall Pastor Chuck Workman (ph). Workman stated that he's aware of no problems or complaints regarding Andy with unit peers or adults. He states Andy has grown in his ability to process his anger. He has not acted out when dealing with stress, but finds healthy ways instead. Pastor Workman has seen a great maturity in Andy during his time at Juvenile Hall.

And last, Kevin Nichols (ph), Head Teacher, Sara Anthony (ph) School, Juvenile Hall. He states: "That due to Andy's confinement, his courses are assigned as directly study contracts, which require a great deal of discipline and self motivation. Andy has maintained a 3.09 grade point average.

He has served as a peer tutor in math, computer skills, and English as a second language. Andy has become an expert in origami and has taught many students this therapeutic art. His insatiable reading habits have also been an inspiration for all those in his class. Andy has never had discipline issues in class and works well with all students and staff."

I'd like to read one last letter about Andy's time in Juvenile Hall that I think is important about what Andy's done since this incident.

"Dear Judge Exharos,

I'm writing to you today about Andy Williams. I wanted to let you know about how he helped my son while they were both in Juvenile Hall together. My son has been diagnosed as autistic. He has always been picked on at the hall. Andy was very protective of Paul. He came to his rescue on several occasions. He even helped Paul by taking time to tell him when he was so depressed. He expressed to Paul that Andy had done a terrible wrong that no matter what Paul had done, he had done worse and wished he hadn't hurt anyone.

Alberto Monos (ph), San Diego, California.

Andy has caused great pain to this community, but he continues to try to do whatever little he can to make up for his tragic acts, and at this point, that's all that we can ask of Andy Williams. Why is this chronology important? Why is Andy's life history important to this court during this sentencing day?

Well, number one, it gives this court the foundation to determine that concurrent sentencing is not only appropriate but warranted given Andy Williams' background. Two, it also, quite frankly, gives us all or should give us all hope that 16-year-old Andy Williams in some fashion can contribute again in some way, some day, to our community, to our society.

A sentence in this case, concurrent or not, but a sentence that would ensure that Andy Williams spend his last breath behind bars is an unconstitutional one. Andy Williams was just a month past his 15th birthday at the time of these offenses. Penal Code Section 190.5 (b) by omission bars a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for any 15-year-old offender.

I submit to this court that 50 years to life in prison is tantamount to life without the possibility of parole. Many men live to the age of 66, but not many men live 50 years in state prison. The court has no discretion to strike the life top gun allegation in this case. It's specific in the code. The court can't do it.

But if the court believes that a 50-year to life or more sentence is unconstitutional because it amounts to life without the possibility of parole for this young man, the court is mandated not to adopt it. Penal Code Section 1202.25 carries a ten-year enhancement. It is enhancement that is closely related or directly like the life top enhancement that Andy Williams admitted to.

The court could use that ten-year enhancement to fashion an appropriate constitutional sentence in this case, a sentence of 35 years to life is more appropriate in this case. It gives this court the ability to protect this community. Andy Williams, with that sentence, will never, ever be released from prison if a parole board doesn't believe he has been rehabilitated.

This case is a tragedy that I can't begin to describe. Given Andy's background, given what Andy's done since the incident, it's not explainable. I believe Andy has done and will continue to do everything that he can to atone for his acts.

Dr. Scott's assessment includes a finding that Andy Williams' risk factors for future violence are very low. We ask this court to consider one concurrent sentence in this case. It's appropriate. It's warranted. And number two, to fashion a sentence of 35 to life to give our community protection, but also to give hope.

Andy Williams, under that scenario, would not see his first parole board until he was 51 years old, and certainly there is no guarantee that he would be released then.

So, your Honor, I thank you for your patience, and we will submit this issue to the wisdom of this court. Andy's family has designated a family friend and asks this court to let her speak briefly as to their feelings. Would the court hear Terry Burdett?





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