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Loukaitis Guilty Teen Faces Life Without Parole For Moses Lake Classroom Rampage

Peggy Andersen Associated Press

Barry Loukaitis was convicted of murder Wednesday in a 1996 classroom attack that killed three people and wounded a fourth at a Moses Lake junior high school.

Quiet weeping pervaded the courtroom as Superior Court Judge Michael Cooper read the verdicts, reached in the fifth day of jury deliberations.

Loukaitis, who was 14 at the time of the attack, was tried as an adult and pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. Now 16, he was the only one in the courtroom who did not react to the verdicts.

An appeal is likely, defense attorney Mike Frost said. He also urged the Legislature to come up with a middleground charge, perhaps “guilty but mentally ill,” to allow for both treatment and a penalty in such cases.

“Either verdict would have been a tragedy. There’s no happy ending here,” said Alice Fritz, whose youngest child and only son, Arnold, died in the brief and bloody classroom siege.

“We do still hope that Barry will get some help,” said Fritz, who attended every day of the trial with her husband, Phillip. Their three daughters joined them Wednesday.

Killed in Loukaitis’ attack were classmates Manuel Vela and Fritz, both 14, and teacher Leona Caires, 49. Natalie Hintz, then 13, was wounded and still has not fully recovered.

After the pale, slender Loukaitis was handcuffed and escorted out of the courtroom, the Fritzes and Natalie Hintz’s grandparents tried to console his parents and grandfather.

The defendant’s mother, Jody Phillips, sat with a woman friend in the emptied courtroom benches, tears streaming down her face, as the others offered hugs and murmurs of encouragement. His father and grandfather, Terry and Dale Loukaitis, stood awkwardly by the door as the victims’ relatives clustered around them, patting and hugging. Terry Loukaitis wept.

“Justice prevailed, I think,” said Manuel Vela’s uncle, Emilio Vela of Olympia. He said he had called the boy’s parents, Manuel and Licha Vela, at their Moses Lake home. They’re “just glad it’s over,” he said.

“I think the jury felt compassion for the kid,” he said. “And they saw the facts, and the facts speak for themselves.”

On the day of the shootings, Loukaitis dressed in all-black western gear and armed himself with three guns and more than 70 rounds of ammunition. He threw open the door of his fifth-period algebra class, raised a .30-30 lever-action deer rifle to his shoulder and began shooting.

He was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder in the deaths of Vela and Fritz, and second-degree murder in Caires’ death.

“There is a tendency to say if a defendant committed a crazy, irrational act, he’s clearly insane. That is not the case,” Grant County Prosecutor John Knodell said.

He said the second-degree murder verdict in Caires’ death showed the jury “considered each case individually.” Second-degree murder requires proof of intent but not of premeditation.

Loukaitis also was convicted of first-degree assault in Hintz’ shooting; 16 counts of first-degree kidnap for holding students and another teacher hostage; and second-degree assault for threatening the other teacher, Jon Lane, who ended the attack when he pinned Loukaitis against a classroom wall.

Loukaitis faces life in prison without parole on the aggravated murder charges. The death penalty, the only other option, was not considered due to his age. Jurors added a weapons enhancement to each count, which would add five years in prison to each penalty.

Cooper, a Kittitas County judge who heard the case after a Grant County judge disqualified himself, scheduled sentencing for Oct. 10 in Ephrata, the Grant County seat. Loukaitis will be transferred to the juvenile facility there to await sentencing.

The trial was held here due to concerns that extensive media accounts would make it impossible to seat an impartial jury in the rural area where the crime occurred.

All 15 students held in the classroom by Loukaitis 19 months ago testified at his trial. Most now attend Moses Lake High School.

At lunch hour, Moses Lake School Superintendent Steve Chestnut said he saw students at the high school hugging each other. At least one teen was crying, he said.

The shootings shattered the rural quiet of Moses Lake, a town of 13,000 in the Columbia River scablands.

“You all will be gone tomorrow. We will live with this for the rest of our lives,” Emilio Vela told reporters outside the courtroom.

Natalie Hintz, still struggling to regain use of her right and hand, “will make the best of things,” said her grandfather, Helmut Hintz, who attended the trial daily with his wife, Myrtle. “I know she’ll look forward, not backward.”

The trial “wasn’t about winning or losing,” Hintz said. “It wasn’t about that at all.”

But he said he thought the verdict would help his granddaughter.

“I’m just glad this is coming to an end,” Hintz said.

Asked if Loukaitis had gotten what he deserved, Fritz cried, “No!” In comments that appeared to go beyond the verdicts, she said she felt Loukaitis deserved some kind of life.

“I just don’t want anyone to think that there is a spirit of anger towards Barry Loukaitis,” she told reporters, adding through her tears, “That would really dishonor our son.”

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