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Teen who killed teacher sentenced to 28 years in prison

Brazill, pictured Friday with defense attorney Robert Udell, will be 42 when he is released from prison  

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- Nathaniel Brazill, the 14-year-old boy convicted in May for the murder of his middle school teacher, was sentenced to 28 years in prison Friday in a Florida courtroom.

Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Richard Wennet also ordered Brazill to serve two years house arrest.

Brazill could have been sentenced to life in prison for shooting teacher Barry Grunow in the head on the final day of classes of the 2000 school year.

After the sentencing, Brazill's mother, Polly Powell, said she thought the sentence was fair, but that she would fight to try to have him freed sooner.

"I know now my son will be coming home one day," she said.

14- year-old convicted murder Nathaniel Brazill makes his plea before the Florida court (July 26)

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Watch the wife of slain teacher Barry Grunow testify at the Nathaniel Brazill sentencing hearing (July 26)

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Judge Wennet sentences 14-year-old convicted killer Nathaniel Brazill to a 28-year prison term.
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Brazill's father, Nathaniel Brazill Sr., said his family would appeal.

"A 28-year sentence is a lot less than we expected, we can live with it, but it's not over," he said.

On Thursday, Brazill testified that he did not mean to hurt Grunow and that he wished he could go back and change what happened. He said that he was sorry for what he did to Grunow's family and to his community.

"Mr. Grunow was a great man and a great teacher and I'm sorry I took him away from you," Brazill said. He said he often thought about how Grunow's children would feel when they are his age.

Brazill was convicted of second-degree murder for the May 26, 2000, shooting death of Grunow, a popular 35-year-old language arts teacher at Lake Worth Community Middle School.

That verdict was a lesser charge than the first-degree murder sought by the prosecution, which would have carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The law Brazill was sentenced under is called the 10-20-Life law, enacted in 1999.

On Thursday, Brazill's mother broke down in tears on the stand and asked the judge for mercy.

In early morning testimony Thursday, Grunow's mother and brother asked for the maximum sentence against Brazill. The voice of Grunow's widow, Pam, broke as she made her statement.

"Nathaniel has consequences to face and everyone must consider the cause," she said. "Why does a young person make such a sad choice? Then maybe tomorrow, another woman's husband, another little boy's daddy, and another great teacher won't be sacrificed in an angry, crazy moment."

A number of Grunow's friends and fellow teachers testified about what a good father he was and the influence he had on his students.

One teacher showed the court a quilt made of drawings, poems and writings her students made in memory of Grunow. She read several of the students' writings, including one that said "he was the best teacher who has ever lived and I am glad to have known him."

Last month, Wennet ruled Brazill can be sentenced as an adult under Florida's strict gun-use law.

Defense attorney Robert Udell had argued before Judge Wennet that Brazill, who was 13 at the time of the shooting, was too young to face such a harsh sentence. "It tells you all you need to know about the United States of America in the year 2001, doesn't it?" Udell said after Wennet ruled against him. "We've lost our soul."

Judge Richard Wennet
Wennet also ordered Brazill to serve five years of probation and to complete an anger management course after leaving jail  

Under that law, anyone convicted of carrying a gun during a crime faces 10 years in prison. Those who fire a gun during a crime face a mandatory 20 years in prison, and those who fire a gun, harming or killing someone during a crime face 25 years-to-life with no parole and no time deducted for good behavior.

During trial, the teen testified about how he pulled the .25-caliber handgun out of his bag and pointed it at Grunow because the teacher would not let him speak to two girls in his class.

Brazill said he cocked the pistol because he wanted Grunow to take him seriously, but that he didn't intentionally pull the trigger. He said he thought the safety was on.

Prosecutors argued that Brazill brought the gun to school because he was angry about being suspended by another teacher for throwing water balloons. They said he was also upset because he was failing Grunow's class.

At one point while on the stand, Brazill clutched the handgun used in the shooting, showed jurors how he cocked the weapon and put a bullet in the chamber.

Brazill showed little emotion during his testimony, but shed tears when asked if Grunow took him seriously "after you shot him."

"What did Mr. Grunow do when he fell to the ground?" asked Assistant State Attorney Marc Shiner. After a long pause and with tears welling up in his eyes, Brazill said, "What do you think he did?"

Udell, the boy's attorney, pleaded with jurors to consider Brazill's age while deliberating.

"Any of you who have dealt with 13-year-olds, or have one, know that they get stupid on us."


• Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General
• Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

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