Teenager: I didn't mean to kill
Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 9, 2001
MIAMI -- Taking the stand in his own defense, 14-year-old Nathaniel Brazill told jurors Tuesday he pointed a loaded gun at his seventh-grade teacher because he wanted to be taken seriously.
"I thought about it this way: If you have a million dollars and I point the gun at you, are you going to keep the million dollars or are you going to give it to me?" Brazill answered when his attorney asked him to explain why he pointed a gun at Barry Grunow on the last day of class at Lake Worth Middle School.
The gun fired and the bullet hit Grunow, 35, between the eyes. Brazill, who was 13 at the time, is being tried as an adult. He faces life in prison without parole if convicted of first-degree murder.
Brazill had been sent home from school last May 26 by a counselor for throwing water balloons. He returned with the gun a few minutes before middle school let out and sought to talk to two girls, only to be denied entry by Grunow.
On the witness stand, Brazill said he took the gun out of his pocket, raised it at Grunow and pulled backed the hammer.
"I don't think he knew it was a real gun," he said. "He sort of had a smile on his face, he wasn't scared or nothing like that. . . .
"When he said, "Get that out of my face,' immediately after that, that's when the gun went off."
Brazill said the sound and blood scared him. He said his eyes started blurring and he later realized they were filling with tears.
"Ten-million dollar question: Why did you take the gun?" defense attorney Robert Udell asked.
"I was just carrying it," Brazill said. "I didn't plan on using it."
Earlier, as Brazill took the stand, Udell had asked him, "Are you a psycho?"
"No," Brazill said.
"Are you demented?"
"What does that mean?" Brazill asked.
"It means are you a coldblooded killer?"
"No," Brazill said.
"Did you mean to harm Mr. Grunow?"
When asked by Udell whether he was having any problems at school or home before the shooting, Brazill said no. He said he was doing well in most of his classes but did receive a couple of D's.
Brazill also said he liked Grunow, who gave him an F in the final grading period. The boy said he wasn't angry about the grade.
Udell also questioned Brazill about a letter addressed to Grunow, which police found in his room and which was read in court last week. Brazill wrote that his friends and teachers were picking on him and that he was considering suicide.
Brazill said it was a fictional letter that he began writing for an assignment. Most everything in the letter was "a joke," he said.
When asked about the gun, Brazill said he took it from a cookie tin in his grandfather's bedroom because he was going on a hunting trip with his uncle that summer. He said he also took five bullets.
Thirty minutes before Brazill testified, his mother inquired about whether a plea deal might still be available.
Before the case went to trial, Brazill and his family rejected a 25-year prison term that was offered in exchange for a guilty verdict. With Brazill facing what is expected to be blistering cross-examination, the family was interested in reviving that offer.
"They have more information now," Udell said. "They asked me to explore all the options. We were told "There are no options. Tough luck.' "
Udell said if he and his co-counsel feel Brazill's testimony gives jurors a favorable impression of their client, they will rest their case. If not, they will present testimony from psychologists who have tested the boy.
Earlier in the day, jurors saw the last portion of a taped statement Brazill gave to police shortly after the shooting.
On the video, Brazill sobs as he learns the teacher died from the gunshot wound.
Brazill and his attorneys don't dispute that he committed a crime. Their main argument is that the boy didn't plan the shooting and therefore isn't guilty of premeditated first-degree murder.
Jurors may opt for the lesser crime of second-degree murder or manslaughter. That would leave the sentence to the discretion of Judge Richard Wennet.
But premeditation may not be necessary for a first-degree conviction. Prosecutors said Tuesday that they will ask the judge to let the jury consider whether Brazill committed felony first-degree murder. The argument would be that Brazill killed Grunow while committing the crime of burglary -- entering the school without authorization.
- Information from the Associated Press, Miami Herald and Cox News Service was used in this report.
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