Wearing a bright red jumpsuit and shackles, 14-year-old Nathaniel Brazill showed little emotion in a Florida courtroom Friday as a judge ordered him to spend 28 years in prison for the murder of popular middle-school teacher Barry Grunow.
Circuit Judge Richard Wennet handed down the sentence in his West Palm Beach, Fla., courtroom. The 28-year sentence has no possibility of parole or time off for good behavior.
Some of the victim's relatives expressed shock that Brazill's sentence is only three years more than the legal minimum.
Wennet gave no explanation for the sentence. He could have ordered Brazill to serve anywhere from a minimum of 25 years to a maximum of life without parole.
Brazill was tried as an adult and convicted in May of second-degree murder for shooting Grunow, 35, point-blank in the face at Lake Worth Middle School on May 26, 2000, the last day of school.
Brazill insisted during his trial that he didn't mean to hurt Grunow and that the gun went off accidentally.
The judge gave Brazill 428 days credit for time served and ordered the teen to spend two years in a community controlled facility after the completion of his sentence. He also will spend five years on probation and be required to take anger management classes. The judge also ordered Brazill to earn his high school diploma.
Defense lawyer Robert Udell said the family will appeal and will not seek clemency until the appeals process is completed.
"I can tell you he's pleased. Nathaniel just wanted to know if there is a light at the end of the tunnel," Udell said.
Kay Grunow, the victim's sister who on Thursday urged the judge to impose the maximum, said she was "extremely disappointed" with the sentence, calling it "an insult to Barry's memory."
Grunow's widow, Pam, was not in court for the sentencing.
At Thursday's sentencing hearing, Brazill apologized for the first time, telling the judge: "Words cannot really explain how sorry I am, but they're all I have."
"I'm sorry for the pain I've caused the Grunow family," Brazill said, reading from a statement. "Mr. Grunow was a great man and a great teacher. ... I've been thinking about Mrs. Grunow and how lonely she is."
Grunow's mother and two brothers testified that Brazill was a danger to society and should serve a life sentence.
"This was not an accident. I think Nathaniel should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," said Phyllis Grunow, the victim's mother. "I don't think any family should have to go through this."
Brazill's mother, Polly Powell, sobbed and wiped away tears as she asked the Grunow family for forgiveness and begged the judge to be lenient.
"Nathaniel is my first born and I love him like nobody else can. I just ask you that you please have mercy on him," Powell said.
Brazill, a seventh-grader, had returned to school after being suspended by a counselor earlier that day for throwing water balloons. He shot Grunow after the teacher refused to let him talk to two girls in his class.
A defense witness testified that Brazill was a "pot boiling over" following his suspension and after years of silence about physical abuse of his mother by boyfriends.
"All this other stuff was exploding inside of him," said Jacqueline Patterson, deputy superintendent of Milwaukee schools.
Asked why Grunow was targeted, child psychologist James Gabarino, a Cornell University professor, testified that Brazill was in such a frenzy over his love life and the suspension that who the victim was "may not have mattered."
The defense sought the minimum 25-year term. Brazill's family rejected a plea deal of 25 years offered by prosecutors before the trial.
Prosecutor Marc Shiner asked for a life sentence, but made a second recommendation of 40 years in prison and probation, should the judge not sentence Brazill to life.
Pam Grunow told the judge that she didn't have a sentencing recommendation to the court but described her husband as a wonderful father with many friends and students who cared greatly for him.
"At home he enjoyed working in his garden and being Daddy," she said. "He was devoted to us. We were his priority."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.