Teen Sentenced to Life for School Shooting

Eric Hainstock
Eric Hainstock

BARABOO, WIS. (CBS/AP)

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A 16-year-old was sentenced Friday to life in prison with the possibility of parole for the shooting death of his high school principal.

Eric Hainstock was convicted a day earlier of the first-degree intentional homicide of Weston Schools Principal John Klang last September.

Sauk County Circuit Judge Patrick Taggart said Hainstock would be eligible for parole in 30 years. He also urged the state's Department of Corrections place him a juvenile center.

"I do believe you can be rehabilitated," the judge told Hainstock, who showed no emotion as the sentence was read.

Prosecutors had asked for a life sentence. District Attorney Pat Barrett argued Hainstock knew what he was doing when he went to school with guns and ammunition Sept. 29, the morning homecoming was to begin.

Hainstock's father, Shawn, was asked after the decision if his son deserved the sentence. "I don't know. As far as I'm concerned, I don't think so. I think he could've gotten a lot of help," he said.

"I hope that he'll get a good education and to be able to make something out of his life some day," he said.

One of Hainstock's attorneys, Rhoda Ricciardi, said her client was emotional and immature and never meant to kill Klang. She found him watching the children's cartoon "SpongeBob SquarePants" before his sentencing Friday morning.

"There is very little thought to anything he does," Ricciardi said.

The jury deliberated for nearly 6 1/2 hours after closing arguments Thursday before making its decision. Taggart had given jurors the option of considering lesser charges of first- or second-degree reckless homicide.

According to a criminal complaint, Hainstock, then a 15-year-old freshman, brought a shotgun and a revolver to the school, just outside Cazenovia in the bluffs and ridges about 65 miles northwest of Madison.

A janitor tore the shotgun from the boy, but Hainstock pulled out the revolver and ran into Klang in a hallway. Klang tackled him and the boy shot him three times, mortally wounding him, the complaint said.

Hainstock's attorneys 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 an 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.

"This isn't about reckless. This is about intentional. Find him guilty," Barrett said.

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 a living alone in "the boondocks." He was forced to tie his father's shoes for him, bring his father food and clean the house.

Helland said things were also hard for Hainstock at school, where other students allegedly stuck his head in the toilet, stuffed him in lockers, threw him in bushes, and targeted him with homosexual epithets.

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

On the morning of the shooting, the boy didn't see much in his future. His grades were slipping, kids were still teasing him, his parents were bossing him around and he felt trapped, Helland said.

"It cascades. It's like a dam the water just busts through," Helland said.

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."