School shooter asks for mercy from life sentence; teacher, principal want him to stay in prison

·4 min read
FILE - Jesse Osborne waits for a ruling at the Anderson County Courthouse, Feb. 16, 2018, in Anderson, S.C.. Osborne, a school shooter serving a life sentence without parole for killing a first grader on a South Carolina playground when he was 14 is asking a judge to lessen his sentence so he can eventually get out of prison. On Monday, May 22, 2023, Osborne's lawyer asked Judge Lawton McIntosh to reconsider his sentence so Osborne, now 21, could have some hope of freedom in his late 50s or even 60s. (Ken Ruinard/The Independent-Mail via AP, Pool, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A school shooter serving a life sentence without parole for killing a first grader on a South Carolina playground when he was 14 is asking a judge to lessen his sentence so he can eventually get out of prison.

Jesse Osborne's lawyer asked Judge Lawton McIntosh on Monday to reconsider his sentence so Osborne, now 21, could have some hope of freedom in his 50s or 60s.

Attorney Frank Eppes said the judge didn't fully consider a psychologist's report that Osborne's lashed out because of abuse and can be rehabilitated.

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“Give Jesse some hope to live with,” Eppes said at a televised court hearing.

Osborne himself asked for a chance at life outside a prison cell, apologizing to the family of 6-year-old Jacob Hall who he killed and everyone at the school that day.

“I would just like to say sorry to every single one of them. Because my evil actions hurt their lives,” Osborne said. “I’m just going to try to better myself in the Department of Corrections the rest of my life.

But the teacher whose class was having recess, the parent of a wounded child, the father of the student celebrating his birthday, the superintendent who saw the bloodstained class rug and the school principal all said at Monday's hearing at the Anderson County Courthouse that they don't want to ever see Osborne out of prison.

Principal Denise Fredericks recognized Osborne as he paced outside Townville Elementary School with a backpack full of ammunition for 12 minutes after his gun jammed before police arrived to arrest him. Osborne had been a student there for seven years.

“I do wish Jesse a life where he can wake up, breathe, eat, work, be productive — but not outside the walls of a prison,” Fredericks said. “In my opinion, his current sentence is still so, so much more merciful than the sentence he gave to Jacob and our school family.”

Prosecutors said Hall's family didn't wish to speak in court but want Osborne to never be released from prison.

Osborne is serving two life sentences after pleading guilty. Before opening fire at the school on Sept. 28, 2016, he shot and killed his father while he slept in a recliner, kissed his rabbit and other pets goodbye, then stole his dad's truck and drove to his former elementary school, according to Osborne's confession.

Osborne crashed his truck into the school fence and fired at the first grade class celebrating a classmate's birthday at recess. Hall bled to death from a gunshot to his leg. Two other student and a teacher suffered minor injuries.

Uneaten cupcakes with the Batman logo could still be seen on the ground inside police tape hours after the shooting.

“My son hates his birthday now,” father Jeff Bernard told the judge.

Prosecutors said Osborne wanted to kill dozens but he was carrying the wrong ammunition and his gun jammed after every shot.

“He didn’t stop because he wanted to. The gun jammed. Thank God the gun jammed,” Fredericks said.

Osborne's lawyer said a video call he had open to a group chat with people who knew his plan showed him sobbing, upset and ready to give up after the first shots.

Osborne is asking the judge to consider a supplemental report from a psychologist that disagrees with prosecution experts who testified at Osborne's original sentencing that he is a dangerous and pathological liar with no remorse.

Osborne's brain was sill developing in his teens. The psychiatrists cited by the defense said he has shown guilt and grief and responded to treatment during the nearly seven years since his arrest on school grounds.

Osborne's lawyer suggested a 30-year minimum sentence for the two counts of murder, followed by 15 years for shooting at the other children and then lifetime monitoring by GPS after he is released from prison with one review after 10 years.

McIntosh asked for a detailed report from the defense expert in the next month and told prosecutors they would have at least 10 days to respond.

A number of students never returned to the school after the shooting. Some haven't returned to any school. A popped balloon ended a school dance in tears. Recess is still filled with anxiety, said teacher Meghan Hollingsworth, whose class was celebrating the birthday that day. Her child was in kindergarten just down the hall.

"The screams of children having fun sends a panic through me as I look to see who is screaming and see if they are OK," she said.

She asked the judge to think about a sign in her first grade classroom and uphold his life sentence handed down more than three years ago,

“You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequences of your choices,” it reads.