ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Attorneys for Mason Campbell, the 12-year-old boy who randomly opened fire in a Roswell school in January and seriously injured two classmates, entered a plea of “no contest” Friday.
The plea was entered in State District Court in Roswell before Judge Freddie Romero. Campbell pleaded to three counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and carrying a firearm into a school.
In a previous court proceeding, Campbell stood silent and the court entered a “not guilty” plea on his behalf.
After the Friday hearing, a statement was released by Campbell’s attorneys, Bob Gorence and Jason Bowles. Bowles is also the boy’s uncle.
The statement said: “The question of what happened on Jan. 14, 2014, at Berrendo Middle School was never in dispute. The questions relating to why and what was Mason’s mental status are still being analyzed by medical professionals. The plea today was important so that the victims are not put through further trauma, for Mason to accept responsibility, and to continue the healing process for all.”
On the morning of the shooting, Campbell inexplicably walked into the school’s crowded gymnasium, removed a 20-gauge shotgun with a sawed-off stock from a duffel bag and randomly opened fire.
Nathaniel Tavarez, 12, and Kendal Sanders, 13, were injured. Tavarez spent weeks in hospitals and rehabilitation centers for treatment of wounds to his chest, heart, face and head. His vision in both eyes has been severely diminished. Sanders was released from a hospital after surgeries to repair damage to her right arm and shoulder.
Campbell, who appeared in court, did not say anything, but through his attorneys he did apologize to the victims and their families and accepted responsibility for his actions.
The Friday statement also said the no contest pleading “acknowledges the limitations in decision-making of an immature brain,” and it “will maximize all options for Nathaniel and Kendal in the process,” meaning the families still could seek further legal redress in civil court.
A sentencing, or disposition hearing, is set for July 2. Sentencing options range from giving Campbell probation, up to committing him to CYFD custody until he’s 21.
At a March hearing, Campbell was ruled competent to stand trial. Still, questions about his mental state persist, and those issues will be addressed during the sentencing hearing, Gorence said.
Matt Chandler, the state’s special prosecutor, said the biggest benefit of the plea is it avoids putting everyone through a trial.
As a practical matter, however, a “no contest” plea is the same as a “guilty” plea “in the eyes of the court,” and the range of sentencing options available to the court doesn’t change in either situation, Chandler said.
“My role is to make sure justice is reached in the case,” he said. “On behalf of the victims in the community of Roswell, the state is seeking the maximum penalty under law.”
Alfred Tavarez, father of victim Nathaniel, said he’s “completely on board” with the state seeking the maximum penalty for Campbell.
“He’s taking full responsibility. That’s my concern, that he knows what he did, and he owns up to it,” Tavarez said. “I would have been really upset if he’d come in and said he was not guilty.”