November 27, 2014

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Wisconsin high school student convicted of slaying principal

 

BARABOO, Wis. (AP) — 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 6½ hours after closing arguments Thursday before deciding on the first-degree intentional homicide charge against Eric Hainstock, 16.

Hainstock had brought his father’s shotgun and .22 revolver to Weston Schools, a rural school about 65 miles northwest of Madison, on Sept. 29. He told detectives in an interview that day he was angry Principal John Klang and other teachers had done nothing to stop other kids from teasing him.

A janitor wrestled the shotgun from Hainstock, then a 15-year-old freshman. But the boy evaded teachers, drew the revolver and went down the hall.

He ran into Klang, who tackled him. Hainstock shot Klang three times in the scuffle. Klang, mortally wounded, managed to disarm Hainstock before another teacher and two students arrived to hold him down.

“This was not an accident,” prosecutor Patricia Barrett said, choking back tears after the verdict. “I’m not sure what justice is for John Klang. He’s a superhero and he saved a lot of people.”

Hainstock’s attorneys rubbed his back before he was led away. The teen could face up to life in prison at his sentencing, which was scheduled for Friday morning. He waived a pre-sentence investigation.

Tears streamed down the face of Hainstock’s father, Shawn, after the verdicts were read. He and Hainstock’s attorneys left without speaking to reporters.

Prosecutors argued earlier Thursday that Hainstock 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.

Klang’s widow, Sue, and new Weston Principal Melissa Nigh cried as the verdict was read. They embraced as the courtroom cleared out.

Sue Klang said she was satisfied with the verdict and now she’ll have a chance to truly grieve.

“I’m looking forward to having a nice talk with him,” she said of her late husband. “I would like to think we can move on now.”

Hainstock’s attorneys had 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.

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.

Helland acknowledged Hainstock started some teasing matches, but did it because he craved attention.

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.”