Three teens accused of helping to plan a Columbine-like attack on a high school pleaded no contest Monday in separate plea agreements.
William Cornell, 18, pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit homicide, possession of explosives for unlawful purposes and possession of a short-barreled shotgun. Shawn Sturtz, 18, pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit homicide, while Bradley Netwal, 19, pleaded no contest to conspiracy to damage property with explosives.
The three were accused of making bombs and collecting guns to carry out the attack at the northeastern Wisconsin school. They were arrested last fall after a fourth teen, who was not charged, told an associate principal at East High School about the plot.
Prosecutors say the teens wanted revenge for bullying and other problems they had at school. Cornell and Sturtz had long been fascinated by the April 1999 Columbine massacre in Littleton, Colo., in which two students armed with guns, knives and bombs killed 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves, police said.
Each had charges dropped against them as part of plea deals. Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski dropped a charge of conspiracy to damage property with explosives against Cornell; a charge of conspiracy to commit homicide against Netwal and a charge of conspiracy to damage property with explosives against Sturtz.
He recommended eight years in prison and 12 years of supervision for Cornell, two years in prison and three years of supervision for Netwal and four and a half years in prison and five and a half years of supervision for Sturtz. Sentencing dates were set for October.
No evidence teens would carry plot out?
The three teens began planning the assault on their school two to three years before they were arrested, prosecutors said. Netwal, a 2006 graduate, and Cornell told detectives they made jellied gasoline for a fire bomb.
Police said they found nine rifles and shotguns, a handgun, about 20 “crudely made” explosive devices, camouflage clothing, gas masks, two-way radios and hundreds of rounds of ammunition at Cornell’s house. At Sturtz’s home, they found knives and ammunition.
The plot included setting off bombs by school toilets and throwing jars of burning homemade napalm at doors so students couldn’t get out and more people would be hurt, Sturtz told investigators. Netwal told police he went along with the plan because he didn’t want his friends to think he was a coward.
Sturtz’s attorney Julie Bachir said it was wrong to compare the plot to the Columbine shootings because there was no evidence the teens would have carried it out.
'I talked him out of it'
A police detective, however, testified at an earlier hearing that Sturtz was upset on Sept. 13, 2006, about breaking up with a girl from California and ready to go ahead with the plan to kill people at the school. Cornell told investigators that “basically I talked him out of it or he would have done it,” the detective testified.
Netwal’s attorney, Christopher Froelich, said he had moved on after graduating and had no intention of carrying out the plot.
“I know my client wasn’t serious about doing anything,” Froelich said. “And he has learned you don’t even talk about this stuff.”