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School Shooting Sentencing

Aired August 15, 2002 - 13:18   ET


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you out now to a California courtroom, where there is a hearing under way. It is involving the sentencing of Charles Andy Williams, who is facing a maximum -- actually, a minimum up to 50 years for a high school shooting -- let's listen in.

KRISTIN ANTON, SAN DIEGO COUNTY PROSECUTOR: ... the level of bullying that he claims he suffered needs to be balanced against the acts that he committed, the acts of bullying himself.

He told us about times, or at least an occasion, where he and his friends were eating oranges, and they flicked their orange peels at him. That was an act he described as being bullied. Now, while they flicked an orange peel at him, he took a gun and put it to the back of Bryan Zuckor's head and pulled the trigger.

He talked about a time when he was at a swimming pool, and a kid took a wet towel and snapped him with it, rat-tailed (ph) him. That was an act of bullying he described. He took a gun and put it to the back of Trevor Edward's neck and pulled the trigger.

He talked about a time he was bullied when someone flicked a cigarette at him, and it landed in the hood of his sweatshirt. He took his gun and shot Tim Estes and Scott Marshall in the back, as they ran out of the bathroom on March 5.

He talked about a time -- several times where these kids would give each other what are called "body shots," where they hit each other with their bodies. It sounds much like you'd see a football player do when they come off the line. They kind of run into each. While he describes getting this body shot as bullying, he took a gun and shot Matthew Heier, Barry Gibson and James Jackson in their legs and hips as they ran from him.

He also sustained what he called "chin checks," where he and his friends would go up and they'd bust each other in the chins. That was his act of bullying that he suffered. He took a gun and shot Randy Gordon in the back as he ran for his life.

Other acts of bullying that he described included being called names. He said his friends called him "wimp" and "bitch" and "pussy." He took his gun, and he shot three girls. He shot Melissa McNulty in the arm, he shot Heather Cruz in the legs, and he shot Karla Leyva in the hand. He talked about a time when a friend of his burned his pants with a cigarette. That was another act of bullying to him. He took his gun, and he shot Ray Serrato in the chest.

He talked about a time of bullying where he had to hold onto the belt loop of a kid and walk around the park. He took his gun and shot Tristan Salladay in the chest.

He talked about a time where his skateboard was stolen, and he felt he was being bullied, because the skateboard that he took to school and couldn't take on campus was placed in a boat parked nearby, and it was stolen out of the boat. He says that's an example of how he was bullied, that someone took the skateboard he hid. He took his gun, and he shot Peter Ruiz three times in the back as he left the bathroom.

Now, I ask you, your honor, when you put those actions in perspective, when you compare them to each other, who is the bully in the case? The defendant is the bully. He took a gun to school, he shot innocent kids, kids he had nothing against. He had no gripe against those kids, and no gripe against Santana High School. He took his gun to a place where parents send their kids every day, thinking, believing that they're going to be safe, and he shot them, and he killed two of them. He shot a teacher; he shot a security guard.

He didn't shoot these people who flicked oranges at him or flicked cigarettes at him or made them hold his belt loop or gave -- the people that gave him the body shot or chin checks. He didn't shoot them. He wasn't retaliating against the bullies. He was trying to establish himself as a bully.

He was trying to prove to his friends that he was a bigger bully than any of them were, and he told us that the reason he did this is because he was trying to show them, show them that he didn't need them, and show himself that he didn't need them. That he could go through with what he said he was going to do.

He talked all weekend before the shooting about doing precisely that. He talked about getting his father's gun. He talked about where he was going to go and what he was going to do. He and his friends talked about it together. He believed two of them were going to go through with this with him. They planned it, they decided what weapons they were going to use, they decided where they were going to go in the school, and they decided that all three were going to start shooting.

Now, two of them backed out, and that is what made him mad. Because the weekend before that, he and his friend, Josh, told all their friends they were going to run away to Mexico, and they were talking trash then of what big shots they were, how they were going to steal a car and steal credit cards and a money card and take money out of Andy William's father's account and run off to Mexico. And Josh Stevens is the one who backed out of that plan.

But apparently, he told all his friends that it was Andy Williams who backed out, and that made Andy mad, because then, those kids made fun of him. They called him a "pussy." They said, "You're a wimp, you're a bitch, you're not going to go through with anything you say." And so, the following weekend, when he starts talking about how he's going to shoot up the school, they said the same thing.

To some extent, yes, those kids egged him on. They dared him to do it, and he was going to prove himself to them. But he is the one that's ultimately to blame here, not his punk friends that egged him on. He is the one that decided to go through with it. His other two friends at least had the moral fiber to back out of the plan. One showed up in his apartment and backed out overtly, and the other just didn't show up. And it was at that moment when Andy told himself that he was going to go do it alone.

He told us in his exact words that at that point, he was committed, and that he was going to show them he didn't need them, and that he was going to show himself that he didn't need them. He was going to prove to all of his friends that he was a bigger bully than any of them, and that's what he tried to do.

But what he's left is carnage, carnage throughout a community. We have two boys, two boys that had promising futures that are dead, because of the defendant wanting to show off for his friends. We have parents who are grieving, who will always grieve for the loss of their sons. We have parents who are afraid to send their kids to school. They are afraid to let them out of them sight. We have kids who are afraid to go to school. Their ability to learn has been compromised. Teachers' ability to teach has been stifled. We have parents, we have teachers, we have students who are now taking antidepressant drugs because of what the defendant did to them.

We have a school whose reputation was impugned wrongly by the defendant's friends, who said this bullying happened at Santana High School. Santana High School is now trying to repair that reputation, and the defendant himself, to his credit, has told us that this didn't happen at Santana. He told us it happened at the skate park.

He stole of lives of Randy Gordon and Bryan Zuckor, and he shattered the safety and he shattered the security of everyone else that he shot, everyone else that was at that school, and especially their parents.

You have an opportunity, your honor, to restore that sense of security, that sense of safety to these victims, and you can do that by imposing a punishment on the defendant that's commensurate with his conduct.

What he did was inflict separate acts of violence on separate victims. He didn't stop after one pull of the trigger. He kept going and going and going. He shot the gun until it was empty, and then he stood next to the bleeding, dying body of Bryan Zuckor and reloaded the gun, and he continued to shoot.

And when the gun was empty again, he retreated back into the bathroom next to Bryan, as he lay dying on the floor, and Trevor, as he lay on the bathroom floor praying he wouldn't die, and reloaded the gun again. And he kept shooting and shooting and shooting until two kids were dead and 15 were injured.

If he stopped after Bryan, if he would have stopped after shooting Bryan Zuckor in the head, your honor, he would be in this courtroom facing 50 years to life. But he didn't stop. He continued, and for that, he needs to be punished additionally.

We cannot say that what he did to the 14 other people, the loss of the other life, of Randy's life, the shooting of the 15 -- or 13 other people, we can't say that was free, that that doesn't count, that he shouldn't be punished for that. He should. He deserves that, and justice demands it.

Now, the defendant is arguing that even the 50 to life is too much time, that it's cruel, it's unusual, it's constitutionally wrong to impose the minimum mandatory sentence. And he cites the case, the Dylan (ph) case. And I won't spend a lot of time on Dylan (ph), but as this court knows, this has is nothing near the Dylan (ph) case. This isn't a botched robbery of a marijuana farm by a group of kids that went bad. This is a cold-blooded, premeditated, calculated assault on 15 victims, on Santana High School, and on the entire community of Santee.

The maximum sentence, your honor, is not cruel and unusual based on what did. The law provides for an enormous sentence, but that sentence is available because of what he did, because he didn't stop, because he continued to shoot, the law demands that he be punished, or at least allows that he can be punished for each victim.

It's my belief, your honor, that each branch of our government should reflect the will of the people, and when the people passed Proposition 21, the people sent a clear, loud, decisive message to the courts, to prosecutors, to defense attorneys, and to criminals, that when juveniles committed crimes, when they committed murders, special circumstance murder, that those juveniles would be treated as adults. They would be prosecuted as adults, and they would be punished as adults. And that is what the court should do. The court's sentence should reflect that will of the people.

You have an opportunity to not only send a message to Charles Andrew Williams about what he did, to tell him how unacceptable and horrific his conduct was, you have an opportunity to send that message to any other kid in this community, that if they think for a minute that they are going to take a gun to school and shoot a bunch of students or teachers or staff members, that they are going to be punished with everything we have.

General deterrence and specific deterrence is a proper and appropriate function of sentencing. In addition to punishing the defendant, your honor, you can, by your message, deter others from ever putting you or any people like this in a similar position. The minimum term simply isn't enough. He needs to be punished as an adult would be punished, and an adult would not be punished with a minimum term.

He needs to be punished for everything he did. Not just for one, but for everything. We need to let him know, we need to let everyone know, that deadly temper-tantrums as teacher Nancy McGee (ph) described his conduct, which is the perfect description of what he did, that deadly temper-tantrums are not going to be tolerated, that they are going to be severely punished.

When the defendant took the gun to school that day, he forfeited his childhood. He forfeited the rest of his childhood, and he forfeited his freedom forever. Forever.

When he took the lives of two young boys, his freedom should go. When asked by the sheriff's detectives on the day of the shooting what he thought the consequences of his conduct should be, he said, "I'm going to spend the rest of his -- I am going to spend the rest of my life in prison," and he is right. That's what his punishment should be. He should forfeit his freedom forever, and by taking away his freedom, you are going to give back freedom to every person in this courtroom, to every kid that will then be able to go back to school, to every parent that will be able to let their kids go back to school, and to every teacher that will again be able to teach.

Don't make them go to parole hearings. Don't make these kids show up 50 years from now, and argue that he should stay in prison. He knows he should spend the rest of his life in prison. You have the power to do that. It is proper for do you that. "I'm going to spend the rest of my life in prison." That's what he thought should happen to him. You can make it so, your honor.

You are going to hear from several of the people who were at the school that day. They would like to make statements to you, but before they do that, I have two statements that I have been asked to read, with the court's permission.

The first is a letter from Matthew Heier, who was a senior at Santana High School on the day of the shooting and was himself a shooting victim. It is dated August 14, 2002. "To the justice overseeing the Santana school shooting trial. I realize that the decision that you are now faced with may be a difficult one. This whole situation is like none other than I have ever been faced with before. The actions of Charles Williams were inexcusable. The fear he has instilled into an entire school and community was unbelievable. He put a serious mark on the lives of hundreds of people. Do not let his age now or then affect the decision you render. I put my trust in you to do what is right, and what is just in accordance with the law.

"Sincerely, Matthew J. Heier."

This, your honor, is a letter from Lisa Carol (ph), who is seated in the courtroom in the front row. She is the mother of Barry Gibson, who was also shot by the defendant.

Carol writes, "When the shooting first happened, my son was very clear in his thought that Andy Williams would face the grave consequences of his actions. My son, Barry Gibson, was not shy in explaining that the consequences would have to be tremendously overwhelming and highly publicized to help thwart others from following in his footsteps. You see, my parents taught me that you have the freedom to choose to do anything you want in life. You just don't have the freedom to choose the consequences for your actions. So you had better choose wisely, knowing that was the deal.

"Of course, we have raised our children to understand the same rule of life. Andy chose poorly, to say the very least. Two young men chose to follow society's rules and to use the rest room to relieve themselves on March 5, 2001. They made what most would consider a reasonable choice that day, but Andy stepped in and started handing out consequences to their decisions. Andy chose to take their lives. These were the consequences he delivered that day of his own free will. Andy didn't stop there.

"This clown made the choice of shooting at others with no obvious regard for their lives either. My son made a choice that day as well. He as well as others saw that their friend Travis had been shot and was lying on the ground. Barry's choice was to go back to help his friend. To most, this would seem to be a good Samaritan choice. Yet here again, Andy dished out the consequences arbitrarily and shot my son. Our blessing was that it wasn't fatal. Barry will live the rest of his life with the consequences of his actions. He had no idea what that would bring into his future. He has had to face several challenges due to his wound thus far. What the future holds remains to be seen.

"Over and over in a matter of minutes, Andy handed out consequences and life sentences to unsuspecting people. Now here we are in court, and he and his lawyers have worked very hard to try and limit the consequences dealt out to this clown.

"I'm sorry, I have made a terrible error. He used poor judgment. What a waste of this young man's life. He has never done anything bad before. While this may all be true, and I may sound harsh, but it comes back to choose wisely your actions, because you can't choose the consequences to them. It would seem that even when you make reasonable and wise decisions, you don't always get favorable consequences. You see, Barry and Travis had asked and pleaded with me to let them skip school that Monday so they could be at the theme park. I made the decision that that was not the proper thing do. As a parent, I was doing what I thought was right, and in the best interest of my child.

"Little did I know the consequences to my choices would lead me here. Just about every student, parent, and friend has been affected by Andy's choices. Now as the court makes its decision, there will be the opportunity to say to others as they think of Columbine or Santana that the law and society will choose tremendously overwhelming consequences for these kinds of choices, no matter the age, the lack in priors.

"It has become apparent to me that my son now believes that we, society, lack the initiative to teach children that there are definitely consequences to their actions, then follow through with the appropriate consequence to instill the fear of bad choices. I can see where he may get that idea, and it saddens me. Some will feel sorry for Andy, that he has wasted his young life by his actions. I'm sure he wishes he could take it all back and make other choices, as we all wish he could. Can I forgive him? Yes. Can I accept that he be given any leniency by this court for any reason? No. He gave no leniency to those who didn't even know him and whom had done nothing to him wrong.

"Thank you, Lisa Carol."

Mr. Heier?

Your honor, John Heier, who is Matthew Heier's father.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last name is spelled H-E-I-E-R.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes sir, your name please?

JOHN HEIER, FATHER OF VICTIM: My name is John Heier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would you like to say?

HEIER: Matthew is my son, and I wanted to elaborate on the implications associated with this whole ordeal, and the continued effect on my family.

We are reminded every day of the ramifications of this senseless act of violence by the way it has changed our lives. The effects of which go way beyond the physical and emotional scars. I cannot adequately put into words the feelings I and my family hold inside, such as anger, anxiety, depression, cognitive difficulties, eating disorders, fear, insomnia, irritability, memory lapses, nightmares. The list goes on and on.

Let me touch on a few. Since the March 5 incident at Santana High School, we have had a very difficult time financially. We were already living paycheck to paycheck, reeling from our youngest son's broken arm and subsequent surgery in September 2000. Then on Friday, March 2, 2001, he fell and broke his other arm at school. The following Monday, Matthew was shot. We didn't think things could get worse, but the chaos and anguish that followed was unbelievable. My wife and I both missed time from work, time that cannot be made up, and unexpected expenses mounting that we couldn't have had otherwise. And a house with five kids, ranging in age from 5 to 18, every penny counts.

We have been living, as I said, paycheck to paycheck, when this happened, and it was a struggle -- the struggle that we had became a battle to stay afloat. Our time away from work for a doctor appointment, surgery, counseling for a family of seven, meetings with the district attorney or the sheriff's department, school personnel, et cetera -- it just goes on.

It wasn't long before bills began to be paid late. Of course when they are paid late, there is a late fee that. That late fee is money that was allocated for another bill. So, in turn, there is another late payment, another additional late fee. So I think you can see where this is go going.

This unexpected predicament continued to worsen. We received letters of termination from every utility in town. We have also had our electricity turned off on two separate occasions, leaving our five kids confused and scared while we were at work. Our phone service has been interrupted on several occasions. Electricity and phone are both restored however, and there was an additional fee for that. We would sometimes send a creditor a check a day or two before they were -- we were able to deposit into our bank account, hoping that we could beat it to the bank to avoid termination of a service or being sent to collections. But as hard as we've tried, we were still sent to collections by several creditors.

Some bills were paid by our son, Matthew. He graciously gave us his money that family and friends gave him for graduation. What credit we had has been destroyed. We had our house within hours of foreclosure proceedings twice in two months, June 2001 and July 2001. On the third month, August 2001, our home loan was put into foreclosure. Fortunately, Ken Clark, of the Greenspan (ph) High School district was able to secure us a loan and I was able to convince the mortgage company to reinstate our loan.

We have recently been able to refinance our home to alleviate the majority of our financial setbacks. Although with our credit now destroyed, this will undoubtedly cost us thousands of dollars far into the future. When I hear someone say friends of Andy Williams, I put these heartless creditors into that same category, because they both entered our lives at the same time.

Emotionally, my family has yet to fully recover. Some recover quickly, some don't. None completely. Some people don't understand that emotional recovery is not limited only to those who were injured physically, but to our family as well. Some family members suffer more than others. This is a terrible thing to have to deal with that I wish on no one. It is hard thing to have to deal with as a parent.

To try explain to a 6-year-old why her big brother was shot and not being able to tell her why, or to have -- to assure her that bad guy is not going to jump over our fence and kill our dog, or even to console our daughters, and our youngest son almost nightly for months on end when the bad guy is chasing them with a gun in their dreams. Over a year later, we all still have dreams like this.

Some of our children have a very difficult time in school since the shooting. Their grades have plummeted and confidence is shaken. The younger kids are terrified of being anywhere without their mom or I. They still cry out of the blue, unprovoked, upset that their Matthew was shot.

They are scared any time Matthew leaves the house for fear he may not come back, ever. My kids now have an overwhelming understanding of death and the finality of it, which I find to be extremely sad, considering how young they are. Children shouldn't have to worry about that.

As a father, of one of the injured students at Santana High School last year, I have been through a tremendous amount of stress, anxiety, depression over the course of the past year, all the while supporting my family, as being as emotionally strong as possible for them. After the shooting happened, I was initially angry, anger that I never felt before nor wanted to feel again. It is not my character to be that way. I was angry at the murderous individuals who inflicting so much pain. I was angry at the people who had it in their power to divert this senseless act of terror, and I was angry at the media who hovered like vultures waiting for any morsel of information that they could muster.

Believe me, a few left my house with their tail between their legs, or hung up the phone, saying maybe they would just drop down a couple links on the food chain for lack being human and compassionate in our time of grievance.

I did this, one, to protect my family from any unscrupulous reporter who is not sensitive to the wants or needs of people in crisis, and, two, I hold the media partially responsible for what happened on March 5, 201. It is my belief that the media's unrelentless coverage years after the fact -- take Columbine for example, that implants evil ideas into troubled minds, provoking them do similar acts of violence.

Not knowing where else to vent my anger, I e-mailed President Bush at 3:30 in the morning, March 6, 2001.

My whole family has been in counseling as a result of this violent act. We have made great strides in dealing with this anger and confusion, anger with the perpetrator, anger with the media, and anger the chaotic confusion that followed.

While it has been over a year now, and our recovery has been remarkably well, that anger had almost completely gone away, but it is very easy for something to happen and set you back. People tell that you it is over, and move on, but they do not understand what it is like it be victimized the way that we have.

March 2, 202, marked a great day for recovery. The Santana 5K held then. It was a wonderful event for my family, and a great way to show support for the school, and more importantly, honor Bryan and Randy. This was followed by another great day, March 5, 2002, again at Santana High School. This was a wonderful way to get together and celebrate life, and again, honor Bryan and Randy. They say good things come in threes.

And the third event was a remembrance ceremony the evening of March 5, 2002, or so it began. This was expected to be the final touch, a great cap on a weekend of uplifting, moving cheerful events geared at honoring Bryan and Randy, which it was. Everyone was feeling good. This is what was needed for so many that they can move on. The music, the esteemed speakers of the evening, just what was needed.

What we didn't need was the audiotape spiel on Andy and Jeff Williams. This literally spoiled all. This was not the proper time for that. I understand that everyone deserves forgiveness. That may come in time. But those who are doing the forgiving will do it on their own time, in their own way when they are ready to do so, not when they are instructed to do it.

No one can imagine what that was like for us sitting in the seats, to see the faces or to hear the collective gasp from the room as the tape started. I personally felt as if I had been stabbed in the gut, as Mr. Williams talked and the knife twisted inside of me.

Much of what he said seemed to be untruthful and contrary to the facts. There was absolutely no place for the Williams in the ceremony to honor those that were killed.

The things that were said lit a fire within me that brought my anger back to day one, March 5, 2001, as progress made in recovery over the year was lost in a matter of minutes.

I know that we would have -- I know we all have to confront what he had to say some day, but it was never expected at the pinnacle of respect for those whose lives were taken.

The reaction I got from everyone at end of the evening was one of shock. The papers and television news reported everyone embracing each other. This is true. The unfortunate things is why they were doing this. It wasn't so much the emptiness of not having Bryan and Randy here with us or the happiness of moving on with life, it was more of an emotional support for have been subjected to Mr. Williams jargon.

Nearly everyone I talked to afterwards felt as if I did, parents, students teachers and friends. Since then, my wife and I have been put on medication to help control our emotions and physical anxiety ailments.

Am I bitter? You're darn right. I have every right to be. My son was shot.

We relieve March 5 every time we hear a siren, see an ambulance or drive past the school. It truly never end for our family, because every time you think that life is starting to feel normal, something snaps you back and you begin the recovery process again.

Unfortunately, this will happen for all of us, victims and families, for the rest of our lives, in newspapers, magazines, television. It will never go away.

SAVIDGE: Well, we just had an interrupt there, but what you were listening to was coming from San Diego County, California. There was the sentencing that was taking place for 16-year-old Charles Andy Williams. He is the young man who in 2001 walked into the Santana High School and opened fire with a 22 caliber handgun, killing two students and wounding 13 others. The victims family being given a chance to speak out there. The prosecution asking for the maximum punishment. That would be 425 years in prison for this 16-year-old. The minimum would be 50 years. That sentencing hearing still ongoing. We will continue to follow it.




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