SAN DIEGO–After a day of emotional testimony by victims and their families, a judge on Thursday sentenced 16-year-old Charles “Andy” Williams to 50 years to life in prison for killing two students and wounding 13 others in a shooting rampage last year at Santana High School.
Prosecutors, victims and the victims’ families begged the judge to impose a maximum sentence of 425 years to life, which would have precluded parole for Williams.
But Superior Court Judge Herbert Exarhos noted that Williams has shown remorse, pleaded guilty to spare his victims further agony and had no previous criminal history. He also said the heavier sentence would run counter to a portion of state law that forbids life sentences for younger juvenile offenders.
Williams sobbed as he spoke briefly before Exharos imposed his sentence.
“For what it’s worth, I want everybody to know I’m sorry,” Williams said. “I feel horrible about what happened. If I could go back to that day, I would never have gotten out of bed.”
Deputy District Attorney Kris Anton had asked Exarhos for the maximum term for two counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. School Principal Karen Degischer told Exarhos that Williams, who was a 15-year-old freshman when he went on the six-minute rampage, should be punished to the full extent of the law.
“We need to see that justice is done so that the healing can continue and the future for us is restored,” Degischer said.
Exarhos said Williams will be 65 before he is eligible for a parole hearing. And he noted that the youth had been mistreated by friends and suffered from depression and despair.
While in Juvenile Hall, Williams has excelled in his studies, learned the Japanese art of origami and acted as a friend and mentor to other troubled youths, according to the county Probation Department.
Shooting randomly with a gun owned by his father, Williams killed Bryan Zuckor, 14, and Randy Gordon, 14, and wounded 11 other students, a teacher and a campus security guard. He surrendered meekly to police, saying he had planned to kill himself rather than be arrested but lacked the nerve.
“He stood near the bleeding, dying body of Bryan Zuckor and reloaded and kept on shooting and shooting and shooting,” Anton said.
“I not only lost my best friend, Randy Gordin, I lost my innocence, my security,” said student Ray Serrato, who has a bullet lodged in his back. “Fifty years is not enough.”
Peter Ruiz, a campus supervisor who was shot three times, called Williams’ apology empty words. He said he is disappointed by Exarhos’ decision because it could mean he and other victims will have to attend parole hearings to keep Williams in prison.
Williams, who since the attack has grown from a short, thin youth into a 6-footer on the verge of manhood, had plotted the attack with two friends on the previous weekend. But the friends decided to back out without telling their parents or authorities.
Williams and his father, Jeff, an employee of the Balboa Naval Hospital, had recently moved to Santee, a blue-collar suburb east of San Diego. Williams had trouble adjusting to Santana High and fell in with a hard-edged group of teen-agers who frequented a local skate park.
He began smoking marijuana, skipping school and doing poorly in his classes. “Andy soon began to experience abuse from these so-called friends,” said defense attorney Randy Mize. “He had no clue on how to cope with it.”
“When you take those actions in perspective,” Anton said, “who is the bully in this case? The defendant is the bully. He took a gun to school and shot innocent kids.”
Mize submitted letters from family friends telling of Williams as a happy youth who excelled in school and sports and attended church regularly. Psychiatrists who interviewed him at Juvenile Hall said he is unlikely ever to commit another crime.
Victims and family members told of physical pain, psychological torment and an overwhelming sense of fear left by the attack. Many are in counseling, others have had difficulty returning to school.
“I forgive him, but that doesn’t take away the pain that is still inside,” said student Karla Leyva, who was wounded. “I forgive him but that doesn’t take away the fear of walking down the street and hearing a loud noise.”
Williams’ father and mother, long divorced, attended the hearing in Superior Court. They did not speak on behalf of their son, instead designating a family friend to speak for them.
“Hating Andy will not make your lives happier,” said Terri Burdett, whose son, Andy’s best friend, was killed in a bus accident just weeks before the shooting. The loss of his friend sent Williams into an emotional tailspin.
Exarhos said that even after reading the interviews that Williams gave to psychiatrists, the FBI profilers and probation officers, he still does not understand why Williams committed the crime.
“In all likelihood, it is a question the defendant will be struggling with daily to answer for himself,” he said.