Accused gunman Aaron Ybarra is to stand trial next week for the shooting at Seattle Pacific University in June 2014 that killed one student and injured two others. Ybarra has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
At some point during Aaron Ybarra’s five-week murder trial, jurors will be taken to the Seattle Pacific University (SPU) campus to view the area where one student was killed and two others woundedin a June 2014 shooting.
King County Superior Court Judge Jim Rogers granted the state’s motion for a campus visit last week, before jury selection began Monday. Sixteen jurors — four of them will be alternates — will be chosen from a pool of about 130, with opening statements expected early next week.
Ybarra, now 29, is charged with premeditated first-degree murder in the death of 19-year-old Paul Lee, three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of second-degree assault, charging papers say. Each charge also carries a firearms enhancement as well as an alleged aggravator that the shooting “involved a destructive and foreseeable impact on persons other than the victim” — namely, the entire SPU community.
Ybarra is accused of scouting the campus before he returned on June 5, 2014, with the intent of committing a mass shooting he never expected to survive, the papers say.
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Instead, Ybarra was doused with pepper spray, tackled and disarmed by a student-safety monitor when he stopped to reload his shotgun after shooting and critically injuring a female student inside SPU’s Otto Miller Hall, say the charges.
Ybarra, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, has been held without bail since his arrest on the day of the shooting, jail records show.
A date for jurors to visit SPU hasn’t yet been confirmed, said Tracy Norlen, a university spokeswoman.
She said the university was still in the planning stages for the visit, which SPU officials hope will have a minimal impact on the school.
No testimony or commentary will occur during the visit, nor will it be considered evidence in Ybarra’s trial, according to the trial memorandum written by senior deputy prosecutors Kristin Richardson and Jessica Berliner. Instead, the visit is to help jurors better understand the evidence, the memo says.
“The scene in this case is a sidewalk across a street where the defendant parked his truck, and the entrance and interior of Otto Miller Hall, several feet from the sidewalk location,” according to the trial memo.
Photos and videos “do not give a complete sense of the size or spatial relationship of the places at issue” and it is “crucial for the jury to see the actual locations,” the memo says.
Ybarra “deliberately wanted to conduct his attack on a school rather than any other location” and told detectives he was inspired by the two students responsible for the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999 and the gunman who committed a mass shooting at Virginia Technical Institute in 2007, say the charges.
He “thought he was going to kill and hurt a lot more people than he was able to before being caught,” say the charges that note he jammed 50 shotgun rounds in his pockets but managed to fire only four of them.
Ybarra, of Mountlake Terrace, is accused of killing Lee on a sidewalk outside Otto Miller Hall and wounding a second man who was struck by pellets that passed through Lee, the charges say. He then tried to shoot a female student, but his shotgun misfired and she was able to run away, they say.
The charges say Ybarra then entered Otto Miller Hall, pointed his gun at a male student then fired at a female student, critically injuring her as she walked down a flight of stairs after writing a math test. Ybarra turned his gun back on the male student but the gun misfired again — and that is when Ybarra was tackled by student-safety monitor Jon Meis, say the charges.
The struggle between Meis and Ybarra was captured by video-surveillance cameras.
Meis and the four surviving students are among 55 potential witnesses for the state, while the defense’s list of 48 potential witnesses includes Ybarra’s mother and brother and a number of mental-health experts, court records show.
Since Ybarra has entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, it will be up to the defense to prove Ybarra was insane by a preponderance of the evidence, a legal burden that is not as high as proof beyond a reasonable doubt required for a guilty verdict. To prevail, the defense will have to convince jurors that Ybarra more likely than not suffered from a mental disease or defect at the time of his crimes, which prevented him from understanding what he was doing, or knowing that his actions were wrong.
The defense’s trial brief details Ybarra’s developmental delays through childhood, his problems with substance abuse, and his treatment for mental illness — which included a failed attempt by one psychotherapist to have Ybarra involuntarily committed. By 2012, Ybarra was “experiencing homicidal fantasies related to shooting people in a school with depression, feelings of hatred and helplessness,” the brief says.
After his arrest for the SPU shootings, Ybarra was evaluated by experts for both the state and defense and “reported he was supposed to go to hell because he was a sinner,” the brief says.
“God had turned him over to Satan and Satan controlled him like a robot …(He) felt compelled to do the school shootings as commanded so that he could die in accordance with the plans of the devil, Satan, and God,” says the defense trial brief.