ST. CLOUD, Minn. – A judge sentenced convicted school shooter Jason McLaughlin (search) to life in prison on Tuesday, and also ordered a second sentence be served consecutively, meaning the 17-year-old won't be eligible for parole for nearly 40 years.
McLaughlin was convicted last month of first-degree murder in the September 2003 killing of 14-year-old Seth Bartell, a classmate. He was also convicted of second-degree murder for shooting Aaron Rollins, 17, another student at Rocori High School (search).
In ordering the sentences to be served consecutively, Judge Michael Kirk (search) — who earlier rejected McLaughlin's insanity defense — granted the request of prosecutors who wanted to ensure a longer stay in prison for McLaughlin.
"You devastated two families, you damaged a community's sense of safety and you destroyed your own and your parents' hope for the future," Kirk told McLaughlin.
That came after emotional testimony from families of the victims, who said McLaughlin deserved the longest sentence possible, and from McLaughlin's own mother, who said a life sentence would deny her son treatment for mental illness.
Prosecutor Bill Klumpp said McLaughlin didn't show remorse. During a presentencing investigation, McLaughlin told an investigator that he would shoot one of the victims again — at a closer range, Klumpp said.
Kirk ordered the mandatory term of life imprisonment on the first-degree conviction, with parole eligibility after 30 years. But that will be bumped back by a 12-year sentence on the second-degree conviction, with Kirk saying McLaughlin might be eligible for parole about eight years into that sentence.
Kirk also shaved two years off the sentence for time already served. Further, he sentenced McLaughlin to a year and a day in prison for a possessing a firearm — but that sentence will be served concurrently with the first-degree murder term.
During the victim impact testimony, Sherry Rollins, the mother of Aaron Rollins, told a packed courtroom that McLaughlin should get the same life sentence he imposed on the families of his victims.
"Our family is no longer complete," she said. "Jason handed us a life sentence without parole and he should get the same."
McLaughlin declined an offer to address the courtroom. He sat motionless and stared downward as family members spoke of how he destroyed their lives.
"I go to bed thinking about it and I wake up crying for my son," said Kim Bartell, Seth's mother.
Rollins' sister and father also addressed the court. Tom Rollins, who spoke the longest, recalled his son's generosity and love of life. He recalled hunting trips and other gatherings, and said, "It's not the same without Aaron."
He said family members have been affected in different ways. He said he hasn't heard Aaron's twin brother, Adam, say his name since he was killed. His wife goes to the cemetery every day, he said, has lost weight and has trouble sleeping.
The defense called one witness earlier in the day, a special education professor who argued that McLaughlin suffered permanent psychological harm as a result of bullying.
McLaughlin was a victim "to the point where it was probably damaging, humiliating to him," said John Harvey Hoover, a professor of special education at St. Cloud State University (search).
During a tearful statement to the court, McLaughlin's mother, Mary McLaughlin, said her son suffered from paranoid schizophrenia (search).
"Jason, I can't imagine the pure hell you were going through in school," she said, later adding, "We love you very much and we always will."
Witnesses at the trial said McLaughlin brought his father's .22-caliber pistol to the school in Cold Spring (search) and shot Bartell, causing a minor wound. A second shot accidentally killed Rollins. Testimony indicated McLaughlin chased Bartell up a flight of stairs and fired a fatal shot into his forehead.
The defense has contended that McLaughlin felt persecuted by Bartell, and that he and other students called McLaughlin "pizza face" because of his acne problems.
Kim Bartell said her son had not teased McLaughlin. "I know in my heart he never teased anyone," she said.
"His acts were cowardly, your honor," Kim Bartell said of McLaughlin. "Jason was a coward."