Trial of alleged Perry Hall shooter scheduled to begin Feb. 19

Officer Gary Gephardt heard a loud pop from the Perry Hall High School cafeteria, which he thought could be firecrackers, an exploding milk carton or a gunshot.

As teens spilled out of the cafeteria, he drew his service weapon with one hand and blocked fleeing students with the other as he headed into the room. There he found two staff members restraining the alleged shooter and a student lying wounded on the floor, the officer testified Friday in a Baltimore County court hearing.

Gephardt recalled that as he cuffed Robert W. Gladden, Jr., the 15-year-old asked the school resource officer, "Can I get the death penalty for this? Because I wanted to kill him."

Gladden, who is charged in the Aug. 27 shooting that left a fellow student in critical condition, is scheduled to begin his court trial on Feb. 19.

At a hearing on Feb. 8, in his first public comments since the shooting, he apologized and asked the judge to try him as a juvenile rather than an adult — a request the judge denied.

"I'm here today because I made the stupidest, dumbest decision," Gladden read from a letter at the hearing before Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr. "I've caused enough pain and hurt. I know I can do so much better."

Gladden added that he would like to meet the victim, Daniel Borowy, or write him a letter apologizing.

Gladden's attorney, George Psoras Jr., described Gladden as a troubled youth who was bullied and had long contemplated suicide. Gladden, he said, also endured the difficult divorce of his parents and the suicides of several close family members.

He argued that Gladden should be tried in the juvenile system, which would be better structured to treat the teen, rather than in an adult facility.

But prosecutors portrayed a less remorseful Gladden. They played recorded conversations the teen had with relatives at the Baltimore County Detention Center in which he denied ever being bullied. They also referred to Spring Grove State Hospital reports noting that Gladden got into fights with another, younger boy, and that he attempted to intimidate a group leader. He also told his doctors the treatment was not helping him, according to the hospital reports.

But Cahill ruled Gladden will be tried in adult court at a trial scheduled for Feb. 19. Cahill weighed several factors; Gladden's age, physical and mental condition, amenability to treatment, the nature of the crime and public safety.

Gladden has declined a plea deal offered by the state.

After last Friday's ruling, defense attorneys and prosecutors argued in a motions hearing over whether Gladden's statements to the first officers he encountered can be used at trial.

Psoras asked each of the officers who questioned Gladden soon after the shooting whether they had read the teen his rights. He also asked the lead detective why Gladden's parents had not been told the teen was being questioned by detectives.

But several of the officers described the urgency to clear 2,000-some students from the school and determine whether the teen was acting alone.

The hearing is scheduled to continue Monday.

Over several hours Friday, officers described the chaotic scene the day of the shooting.

Cpl. David Garner, a member of the SWAT team, recalled large crowds of students, some walking, others running down Ebenezer Road. At the school, the principal estimated that only 300-some students had left, while 1,700 still needed to be evacuated.

Garner, and several other officers said in court that they interviewed Gladden, asking about additional shooters, or if there were any potentially dangerous devices, before the SWAT team moved through the school, checking unlocked rooms, ushering students out to follow uniformed officers through the halls.

Meanwhile, half a dozen other detectives and officers drove out to Gladden's parents' homes in Kingsville and Hawthorne, to execute search warrants, according to Violent Crimes Detective Eric Dunton, who later interviewed Gladden at the Public Safety Building.

Dunton testified that Gladden told him how he broke the gun down the day before at his father's house and later went to his mother's, never mentioning his plan to anyone. Gladden also told the detective how he rode the bus to school, with the gun in pieces inside a Bob Marley backpack, and how he sipped vodka at the bus stop and on the bus.

The detective asked him how he intended the shooting to unfold, and Gladden responded that he wanted to kill as many as he could and then kill himself, Dunton said. The detective also asked him about a note that Gephardt pulled from the teen's pockets back at the cafeteria. In the note, he thanked his father for being able to have access to the gun, while he wrote that he had nothing to tell his mother.

During an interview with Dunton that was played in court, Gladden told the detective he planned the shooting "to make a point. That the world is a [expletive]-up place."

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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