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June 23, 2014 at 9:18 AM

Suspect in SPU shooting pleads not guilty

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Aaron Rey Ybarra in court this morning. (Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Aaron Rey Ybarra, the Mountlake Terrace man accused of killing one student and wounding two others at Seattle Pacific University on June 5, pleaded not guilty to five charges this morning in King County Superior Court.

Ybarra, 26, has been charged with one count of premeditated first-degree murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of second-degree assault. All of the charges carry firearms allegations that could increase the sentences. Prosecutors amended the charges this morning and added the third count of attempted murder against Ybarra for allegedly pointing a shotgun at a SPU student.

The defense filed a notice of intent to pursue a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity this morning. “It’s a defense we are definitely investigating,” Ybarra’s defense attorney Ramona Brandes said in an interview. “But we need much more information from the prosecution to know if it is a viable option.”

If convicted as charged, Ybarra could face a sentence of 69 to 86 years. However, prosecutors plan to seek an exceptional sentence that could result in a term of life in prison, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said earlier this month.

Under a “rarely used” provision of state sentencing law, prosecutors can seek an exceptional sentence “designed for this type of outrageous act of public violence,” Satterberg said. The law allows for a life sentence if the “offense involved a destructive and foreseeable impact on persons other than the victim.”

Satterberg, in a prepared statement he read at a news conference on June 10, said the shootings reverberated far beyond the SPU community.

“The truth is that crime of random and senseless violence took a toll well beyond the student who was killed, those who were injured, and their immediate families,” he said. “Though it is impossible to measure, I believe that our entire community suffers a profound loss each time there is an incident of mass violence.”

Ybarra is being held without bail in the King County Jail.

Ybarra is accused of walking into Otto Miller Hall on the SPU campus at about 3:30 p.m. June 5 and shooting three students with a shotgun before he was tackled by student Jon Meis while he paused to reload. In addition to the shotgun, police say, he was armed with a hunting knife and carried more than 50 rounds of ammunition.

Killed was student Paul Lee, 19, of Portland, who died at Harborview Medical Center. Wounded were Sarah Williams, 19, of Phoenix; and Thomas Fowler Jr., 24, of Seattle.

Natalie Pimplett, a senior at SPU and friend of Lee, was in attendance at today’s arraignment. “(Lee) had a kind spirit,” Pimplett said outside the courtroom. “He loved to dance and he was always smiling, always singing. He had a great attitude and we miss him a lot.”

Ybarra kept a journal during the two weeks before the shootings, prosecutors allege. In it, he “expresses admiration for perpetrators of mass violence at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech,” Satterberg said. Police found the journal in a pickup he parked near Otto Miller Hall.

Brandes, the defense attorney, has not disputed accounts of the shooting, but maintains Ybarra has a mental illness and was unaware of his actions “until he heard a girl screaming.”

“He wasn’t on his meds and he committed an action that is incomprehensible. Had he been on his meds, would this have happened? We’ll continue asking that for all time,” she said earlier this month.

Photo gallery: Shooting at Seattle Pacific University (June 5)

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: homicide, school shooting Seattle Pacific University

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