BARABOO, Wis. – A high school student was convicted Thursday of fatally shooting his principal three times as homecoming festivities were about to begin last fall.
The jury deliberated for nearly 6 1/2 hours after closing arguments Thursday before deciding on the first-degree intentional homicide charge against Eric Hainstock, 16.
Sauk County Circuit Judge Patrick Taggart gave jurors the option of considering lesser charges of first- or second-degree reckless homicide.
The teen could face up to life in prison at his sentencing, which was scheduled for Friday morning. He waived a pre-sentence investigation.
Prosecutors argued earlier Thursday that Hainstock shot Weston Schools Principal John Klang on purpose Sept. 29, lied about the gun going off during a struggle and has been trying to blame others ever since.
The teen's attorneys conceded he killed Klang, but said he was a troubled kid and didn't mean to kill the one person he hoped would listen to his problems. If he wanted to kill people, he simply would have marched into school and started shooting, Hainstock's attorney told jurors.
To get the intentional homicide conviction, prosecutor Patricia Barrett had to convince jurors Hainstock meant to kill Klang at the moment he pulled the trigger.
The other two charges required only that prosecutors show a defendant's reckless conduct caused a person's death. Intent is not an element.
According to a criminal complaint, Hainstock, then a 15-year-old freshman, brought a shotgun and a revolver to the schools, just outside Cazenovia in the bluffs and ridges about 65 miles northwest of Madison, on Sept. 29, the morning of homecoming.
A janitor tore the shotgun from the boy, but Hainstock pulled out the revolver and ran into Klang in a hallway. Klang tackled him and the boy shot him three times, mortally wounding him, the complaint said.
Hainstock's attorneys argued the boy suffered from attention deficit disorder, had been abused at home and was teased by other students. They argue he went to Weston with guns to make people listen to his problems, not to kill.
But Barrett told jurors that Hainstock's anger toward Klang had been growing over the two weeks leading up to the shooting.
The principal had kicked him out of school for three days after the boy threw a stapler at his special education teacher. The day before the shooting, Klang gave Hainstock in-school suspension for having tobacco in school, she said.
She pointed out two students who testified they heard Hainstock say Klang wouldn't survive homecoming. The janitor and a guidance counselor heard the boy say he was at the school to kill someone, she said.
Hainstock initially told police he was "ticked off" at Klang, teachers and students. He told them he fired three shots at Klang — on purpose — after the principal wrapped him in a bear hug.
When the boy testified at his trial on Wednesday, Barrett accused him of lying on the stand when he said he fired three times, with only one shot on purpose.
A firearms expert found five fired cartridges in the revolver, Barrett added, and the angles of the shots suggest the boy fired at Klang before they fought.
"This isn't about reckless. This is about intentional. Find him guilty," Barrett said.
Holding out a photograph of Hainstock's filthy, cluttered house, his attorney, Jon Helland, said the jury should not ignore the boy's tough life.
He described Hainstock as single child living alone in "the boondocks." He was forced to tie his father's shoes for him, bring his father food and clean the house.
Kids at Weston stuck his head in the toilet, stuffed him lockers and threw him in bushes, Helland said. They also called him a fag, which cut him deeply considering the sexual assault, Helland said.
Helland acknowledged Hainstock started some teasing matches, but did it because he craved attention.
On the morning of the shooting, the boy didn't see much in his future. His grades were slipping, kids were still teasing him, his parents were bossing him around and he felt trapped, Helland said.
"It cascades. It's like a dam the water just busts through," Helland said.
Why he went to school with loaded guns may never be known for sure, he said.
"You want a good explanation why he did this? You're not going to get one. He's a kid," Helland said. "We don't know. And he may not know. A lot of teenagers can't answer that question. They just can't."