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At her sentencing hearing, Brooke Higgins, a teenager convicted of a plot to kill staff and students at Mountain Vista High School, took the stand and wept as she apologized to the community.
"Finally and most importantly, I want to say I'm sorry," said Higgins, who was joined at the stand by her two lawyers. "I reflect on that time and it doesn't seem like me, it doesn't seem like anything I could have thought, written or done."
Higgins, now 17, was formally sentenced Feb. 8 at a hearing at the Douglas County Courthouse in Castle Rock. Higgins pleaded guilty to two charges, one as a juvenile and one as an adult, on Dec. 20. She will spend three years in the Department of Youth Corrections — including the past year that she has been in custody — for solicitation to commit murder, for which she was prosecuted as a juvenile. That will be followed by four years of adult supervised probation with mental health treatment in the adult case, conspiracy to commit muder.
If she successfully completes the probation sentence, she can have the adult conviction sealed.
Higgins and Sienna Johnson were arrested in December 2015 after Text-A-Tip reported their alleged murder plot against the high school in Highlands Ranch. They were sophomores and 16 at the time. Both were charged as adults in January 2016 with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder with extreme indifference and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder after deliberation.
Johnson's next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 27.
Unlike past hearings, the Douglas County courtroom where Higgins' sentencing hearing was held was filled with family members and friends. Several witnesses, including a teacher, a child psychiatrist, a public safety psychologist and Higgins' father, Thomas Higgins, took the stand.
Thomas Higgins' expressed his disappointment in the court system, arguing that his daughter's case should have been kept in juvenile court.
"I'm outraged that (District Attorney George) Brauchler would file a girl in adult court who didn't have any weapons and has never hurt anyone before in her life," he said. "The silver lining is that we have a daughter who is safe and healthy."
Court testimonies and Higgins' arrest affidavit, which was released in early January, paint the picture of a teenager who struggled with depression, post traumatic stress disorder and drug abuse.
According to the affidavit, Higgins brought the idea of a school shooting to Johnson in December 2015 and the two took steps toward carrying out their plan. They planned to kill themselves after carrying out the attack, according to the document.
Higgins tried to obtain guns through other individuals, pawn shops and online stores. Johnson, whose name appears redacted in the affidavit, created an intricate map of the school that included all exits, the busiest locations and times and information on the school's security, the document says.
In her journal, Higgins had written about cocaine use, suicidal thoughts and feelings of sadness. She wrote about being in counseling, hoping it would create a new chapter in her life. She also wrote about how she wished she had been part of the 1999 Columbine High School mass shooting that left 12 students and a teacher dead.
Higgins' lawyer, Iris Eytan, at her sentencing hearing argued that Higgins never planned to shoot up the school.
"Brooke was 16 and googling and writing things that she thought no one would see," Eytan said. "She was clouded by depression and drugs."
At the sentencing hearing, Brauchler referenced a slideshow that outlined key evidence in the case, including journal entries, text messages and photos taken by Higgins. He said that Higgins deliberately went to a friend's house to try to obtain a gun.
"At the end of the day, judge, this is no victim. She made the decision that she made, she knew what she was doing and she took steps. This wasn't just words," Brauchler said.
King acknowledged certain factors of Higgins' life that played a role in the case, including her home life and her parents' divorce. He also recognized the problems Higgins had created in her life, including her choice of friends and her drug use.
"Some of the problems you have are vested on you by adults," Judge Paul King said to Higgins. "Some of these problems lay squarely on your feet.
"Now, every parent has to say, 'Is my child going to be protected from being murdered by their fellow classmates?' That's not a joke, we in Colorado know that all too well."
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