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Punishment Enough? 

Sean Fitzpatrick, 16, who brought a gun to school in an apparent attempt to provoke police to kill him, could face criminal charges that carry up to 30 years in prison, says Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker.

Tucker adds that he will wait to file any charges until the boy has recovered his ability to speak and can indicate that he understands legal proceedings. During a Sept. 22 standoff at Lewis and Clark High School in downtown Spokane, Fitzpatrick was shot three times, including once in the face.

"I'm trying to consider the community interest," Tucker says. "It's bad to allow kids to bring guns to school. How do we reinforce that if we allow someone to go without a charge?"

Tucker says that he has consulted with school officials, the three police officers who shot Fitzpatrick and Officer John Gately, the crisis negotiator who tried to convince Fitzpatrick to surrender. Spokane Police Chief Roger Bragdon favors filing charges against Fitzpatrick.

"We are a nation of laws," Bragdon says. "You just can't say we feel sorry for him, so we're going to excuse the law."

Among the charges being considered are five counts of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon, Tucker says. According to Washington law, a juvenile age 16 or 17 who is involved in a violent offense while armed with a handgun is automatically charged as an adult.

The teenager's attorney, Carl Hueber, says Fitzpatrick never intended to harm anyone but himself. A recent psychiatric evaluation, Hueber says, concluded that Fitzpatrick had suffered from "daily auditory hallucinations" for more than two years prior to the shooting.

Hueber argues that Fitzpatrick -- who has undergone numerous surgeries to reconstruct his face and still cannot eat or speak properly -- was punished by being shot, making criminal charges unnecessary.

"You can look at Sean and look at what has happened to him and there is a consequence," Hueber says. "This is what happens -- what can happen -- if you bring a gun to school."

While Fitzpatrick would not be charged in federal court, a judge in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled late last month that pain from being shot by police could be considered when issuing a sentence.

At Lewis and Clark, many students are circulating a petition asking that the prosecutor not treat Fitzpatrick as an adult and to consider lesser charges. Already, more than 700 of the school's 2,000 students have signed. One of the organizers, Terra Neilson, 17, a junior, says Fitzpatrick needs counseling more than jail time.

Not everyone is supporting the petition. One student, Kayla Fields, 17, says that from what she saw, Fitzpatrick acted like an adult. She had been eating her lunch in a classroom when Fitzpatrick pulled a gun and fired it into a cabinet.

"If a person under 18 commits a crime in complete competence, it crosses them over the innocence line," she says. "He should take full accountability."

Tucker says he has three years from the time of the incident to file criminal charges.

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