EVERETT, Wash. — As a boy, Joshua O’Connor was abused and neglected by his mother and left to care for his younger sisters without food and water for days.
As a teen, he struggled to fit in, telling his small group of new friends about the bullying he had endured at Kamiak High School before transferring to Aces High School in the Mukilteo School District.
He had suffered a concussion in 2017 that may have caused a traumatic brain injury, according to Dr. Delton Young, a psychologist who testified for the defense ahead of O’Conner’s sentencing on Thursday. Young told Judge Bruce Weiss that O’Connor suffered from Major Depressive Disorder.
All of that combined with O’Connor’s age and not fully developed brain, Dr. Young suggested, may have meant the teen was unable to understand the consequences of his actions and be considered a mitigating factor in deciding the proper sentence for a now 19-year-old. O’Conner had detailed a step-by-step plan of how he planned to use guns and homemade bombs to mow down as many kids as possible at Aces High School last spring.
Upon hearing Young’s testimony and from family members asking for leniency at a hearing earlier in February, Judge Weiss delayed sentencing until Thursday to consider those issues. The defense had requested a 12-year sentence for O’Connor, who pleaded guilty to attempted murder, armed robbery, and other charges for having homemade explosives in his possession.
At sentencing, Judge Weiss said he considered all of those mitigating factors, but that they were not enough for him decide upon the lighter 12-year sentence. He handed down a nearly 23-year sentence for O’Connor, who appeared accepting of his fate in court.
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Judge Weiss also thanked O'Connor's grandmother, who was in the courtroom, for having the courage to turn him in when she found his journal detailing plans for the massacre. O'Connor was arrested the day before the Parkland, FL shooting.
“To me, ma’am, you are a hero,” Weiss said, “Because I truly believe, even though it was argued that your grandson could have changed his mind and not carried out his plan on that day, I’m convinced, based on everything that I saw, that he was going to carry it out. Had you not intervened, there would have been many, many lives that would have been lost, including your own grandson’s,” Weiss added, as he thanked the woman for her bravery.
Weiss then told O’Connor that he knew his sentence was harsher than he wanted, but that he hoped he would still follow through with the plans, he detailed in a previous hearing, to spend his time behind bars furthering his education, working with dogs and on his music, and eventually writing a biography to serve as a cautionary tale to others.
“You’re still going to be relatively young by the time you get out, and you do not have to let the mistakes that you’ve made in the past define you as a person the rest of your life,” Weiss told O’Connor. “That choice is going to be up to you, though.”
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