Crime

Jury sentences former high school student convicted of taking gun to school

Nathan Richardson Sentencing

EL PASO, Texas -  A jury has sentenced Nathan Richardson, 20,  to community supervision for 6 years with no fine.

The jury convicted the former Eastwood High School student of taking a gun to school.

Richardson was convicted of unlawful carrying of a weapon in a prohibited place, a spokeswoman with the district attorney's office said. 

Prior to the sentencing phase beginning Thursday morning, the judge took 20 minutes to make sure the jury had no outside influence that might create bias following the recent school shooting in Florida.

Judge William Moody gave the jury strict rules to follow which included staying off social media and not watching the news. "Is there anyone who saw something in the news that could be an issue to you in this case?" Moody asked. All of the jurors said no.

Moody then asked if anyone had been subjected to information that might make them partial. One of the jurors raised his hand and told the judge that he had heard about the shooting on the news, but said he only heard preliminary information before turning the television off. The judge allowed the juror to stay and they proceeded with the case.

The conviction, a third-degree felony, is punishable by a term in prison of between two to 10 years. Richardson could also be ordered to pay a fine of up to $10,000 and ordered to serve in between two to 10 years' probation when he is released from prison.

Richardson took the gun to school in April 2015. At the time, officials with the Ysleta Independent School District told ABC-7 that Richardson was located five minutes after students reported he had a gun. 

A handgun was found in Richardson's backpack and the student was expelled for 180 school days, officials said at the time. Some parents complained they weren't notified quick enough, if at all, and they were surprised the school wasn't placed on lockdown.

In court Wednesday, state prosecutors asked Leticia Gutierrez, Richardson's teacher at the time, if Richardson should be considered a danger to society. "Yes," Gutierrez answered.

The sentencing phase started when the prosecuting attorney called in Jacob Ditmer, 19, who testified that he has known the defendant since middle school.

The prosecuting attorney questioned Ditmer about an altercation between himself and Richardson.

Ditmer testified that he had to call the police on Richardson in 2016, because of an altercation between the defendant and his brother.

Ditmer claimed that Richardson tried to run over his brother after an argument, which he said stemmed from Richardson continuously revving his engine by their home.

Ditmer testified that Richardson was not a law-abiding citizen and was a danger to the community.

The state rested its case and the defense called its first witness.

Margie Zapatka, Richardson’s sister, was called to the stand. She was questioned on her relationship with her brother and their family dynamics. Zapatka said that their mother was physically abusive to Richardson and called child services about the abuse.

She maintained that Richardson was not a danger to society.

The state then called one of Richardson’s neighbors, Armando Huante, to the stand.

Haunte testified that has known Richardson for more than eight years and that he considered him family. Haunte said his son was good friends with Richardson.

Huante said that, he found out that Richardson had brought a gun to school that he was not afraid for his child. The neighbor said that he was aware of Richardson’s juvenile history, which included assaults, but maintained that he did not think that Richardson was a danger to the community.

The prosecuting attorney began questioning the witness and asked if he was aware that Richardson told a police officer that he was not going to hurt anyone, but that he was going to “pop off” a few (rounds) at lunch. Huante said no.

 

The defense called its third witness , Ryan Chavez, a school friend.

 

Chavez called Richardson a close friend and said he considered him a brother. He testified that he was not afraid for his life the day Richardson brought a gun to school and that it was not a dangerous situation for other students. Chavez said that Richardson never talked to him about bringing a gun to school and he did not see the gun the day of the incident. Before being excused, Chavez said he did not want his friend to get into trouble.

The fourth witness to take the stand was Troy Clark, a friend of Richardson who turned him in the day of the incident.

Clark testified that he had not been afraid when he saw the gun at school in 2015. He added that he hadn't thought that anything bad was going to happened, but said that he didn’t want to risk it.

Clark said that Richardson was not a risk to society.

The defense called two more witnesses to the stand before resting.

Autism Specialist with YISD Candy Forrest and Personal Recogniance Bond Officer Christopher Villarreal.

Forrest worked with Richardson since he was 5-years-old due to his Aspergers and said it was not a good idea for him to be shooting guns.

Villarreal testified that he never had any issues with Richardson since he became his PR bond officer back in June of 2017. Richardson was order to meet with Villarreal twice a week.

Closing arguments ensued after the defense asked for a mistrial because of the recent school shooting in Florida. The judge denied the request.

During closing arguments, the defense attorney said the state was trying to make their client look like a "bad guy."

The defense said the prosecutors wanted the jurors to act out of fear of what could have happened when he brought the gun to school and made a reference to the 1999 school shooting in Colorado, saying it was not an attempted Columbine.

They ended by saying their client made a mistake and then asked the jury for the minimum sentence of 2 years.

The prosecutors fired back in closing arguments and told the jury that they do not want probation and that Nathan deserves to spend time in jail.

The prosecuting attorney said Daniel needs to be held accountable. They proceeded to tell the jury that this sentencing will set the standard for El Paso on how to punish individuals who bring guns onto school campuses.

The state told the jury the District Attorney's office is asking for ten years, but that would they would settle for five.

The jury began deliberating shortly after 5 p.m. 


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