So many jurors have already bailed out of 16-year-old Barry Loukaitis’ gruesome triple-murder trial, prosecutors fear a mistrial may not be far down the road.
The Moses Lake teenager is accused of opening fire on his junior high school algebra class on Feb. 2, 1996 - killing his teacher and two classmates. A third student was critically wounded.
Hoping to speed up the trial and prevent the loss of more jurors, Grant County Prosecutor John Knodell wants the case tried five days a week instead of the scheduled four.
One alternate left the panel because of a family emergency Tuesday, the second day of testimony.
Another was asked to leave the jury after fainting during opening statements the day before. The alternate who replaced him didn’t last until lunch time because graphic testimony about bloodied, maimed and killed schoolchildren left her light-headed and unable to concentrate.
That leaves only one alternate juror in a disturbing case that could stretch on for six more weeks - unless the pace picks up, Knodell said.
A mistrial would be “financially disastrous” to Grant County, he argued. The trial was moved to Seattle because of extensive pretrial publicity in Eastern Washington.
The defense opposed the prosecutor’s request to speed up the trial, which is being considered by Kittitas County Superior Court Judge Michael Cooper.
Loukaitis is charged with three counts of aggravated murder for killing teacher Leona Caires, and students Manuel Vela and Arnold Fritz, both 14. Loukaitis is also charged with attempted first-degree murder for wounding Natalie Hintz, now 15; second-degree assault; and 16 counts of kidnapping.
He has confessed to the shootings but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury must decide whether he was so mentally impaired at the time of the attack that he cannot be held criminally responsible for his actions. If so, Loukaitis would face imprisonment and treatment until a judge declares he is no longer a danger to others.
If convicted on the murder charges, Loukaitis, who is being tried as an adult, faces life imprisonment without parole.
Roger Beasley, 40, who fainted during the first day of testimony, said the descriptions of the shootings were too much to bear.
“It was a combination of the blood and everything: the graphic display of all the blood and the bodies,” said Beasley, a Boeing accountant.
Beasley asked to remain on the panel but was removed by the judge after admitting he might “tune out” future graphic testimony.
There were plenty more grisly details to come.
Cpl. Paul Harder, one of the first Moses Lake police officers to arrive at the classroom, described checking bloody bodies for a pulse and watching Fritz die.
Alice Fritz wept quietly in the courtroom and gripped her husband’s shoulder as Harder described dragging her son down the hall of Frontier Junior High:
“He had a large hole in his upper right chest, and there was a large amount of blood. As we dragged him, probably halfway down the hallway, his eyes opened and rolled back in his head. That was all the movement I saw.”
When he examined Caires for a pulse, he found none. “Her sweater had pulled up, and there was what appeared to be intestinal material protruding from her abdomen.”
He described Loukaitis as “calm, very matter of fact, very coherent” and “cold and calculating.”
The slender defendant was expressionless throughout the testimony. At times he would cover his thin, pale face with his hands, or rub his forehead with slow, deep strokes.
Vela’s mother rushed from the courtroom when Knodell displayed large color photographs of classroom after the shootings.
Survivors testified Tuesday that Loukaitis was cool-headed immediately afterward, calling the class roll to determine who was still alive.
He ordered students to the back of the room, calling their names one by one and directing them to chairs, said Christopher Sutter, 15.
Sutter said Loukaitis told them, “This sure beats the hell out of algebra, doesn’t it?”
Loukaitis also allowed some students to leave the room, including one who complained of low blood sugar and the wounded Hintz.
He then carefully fitted a Zip-lock bag over the muzzle of his .30-caliber rifle and secured it with a rubber band, intending to insert it in the mouth of physical education teacher Jon Lane and take him hostage.
That’s when Lane made his move, pinning Loukaitis to the wall and yelling to the students to run out of the room.
Other classmates described Loukaitis as a kid who had been outgoing, but underwent a dramatic personality change in the weeks leading up to the shooting.
“In seventh grade, he was just a normal guy. … Eighth grade was pretty much the same. In ninth grade his whole outlook was much darker,” said Derrick Erickson, 17.
“He came to school totally unprepared, his hair all over the place, and his shirt sloppily put on. He’d just sit in a corner. You’d try to talk to him and you couldn’t.”
Loukaitis told Erickson that his parents’ marriage was “going to hell,” the witness said.
Dana Shamlin, 16, said Loukaitis wrote disturbing poems in their honors English class about a week before the rampage. “His poems were about death and killing and stuff.”
Leonardo Valdez, 14, said Loukaitis told him he liked the movie “Natural Born Killers” because it was violent “and that was cool.”
During the shootings, Valdez said he was struck by how calm Loukaitis seemed.
“He looked like he knew what he was doing. Like he had it all planned out.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT? Six of Loukaitis’ classmates are expected to testify today. Testimony will focus on what they heard and saw in the classroom during the rampage, and Loukaitis’ state of mind prior to the tragedy.
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