Girl pleads guilty in murder plot
The 17-year-old is one of two teens accused of planning a school attack.
castle rock» One of two teen girls accused of plotting to kill staffers and fellow students at Mountain Vista High School last year pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count each of conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree and murder solicitation in the first degree, both felonies.
Along with a plea agreement, 17year-old Brooke Higgins accepted a stipulated sentence of three years in the Division of Youth Corrections — the state’s juvenile detention system — and will get credit for the roughly one year she has spent in jail since her arrest.
Higgins, dressed in a dark-green sweatshirt and light-green pants, was barely audible as she softly told Douglas County District Judge Paul King she was guilty. The girl, her hair in braids, was flanked by her lawyers and parents during the hearing in Castle Rock.
“What I am satisfied with about this outcome is I think that we have put her in a position to give her the appropriate setup and supervision to be successful and to continue to move forward,” 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler told reporters after the hearing. “And I think we have put the community in a position to remain safe for as long a time as possible.”
Of the murder conspiracy and murder solicitation charges Higgins admitted to, the first is an adult accusation and the latter is a juvenile offense.
The Department of Youth Corrections sentence comes from the juvenile offense. Higgins also agreed to four years of supervision upon her release from juvenile detention that will serve as a deferred sentenced for the adult charge. A formal sentencing is set for early February.
Prosecutors say if the teen successfully completes the diversion, she could have the adult felony conviction sealed from her record.
“If she does everything she is required to do,” Brauchler said, “at the end of the day, she will be in a position to close the book on
this case and put it behind her and continue to progress forward as an adult.”
Higgins’ parents and lawyers did not speak to reporters as they quickly left the Douglas County courthouse.
Higgins and Sienna Johnson were charged as adults with conspiracy to commit murder last year in the alleged plan to attack Mountain Vista High. Defense attorneys for the girls had asked for a reverse transfer, which would allow them to be tried as juveniles. Both girls were 16 years old at the time of their arrest.
Higgins was set to have a reverse transfer hearing — a mini trial where a judge determines whether adult or juvenile charges are appropriate — last week, but that hearing was postponed so she could plead guilty Tuesday.
Johnson, whose case remains under prosecution, is next due before a judge in January.
“(Sienna Johnson) has to remain presumed innocent even though (Higgins), who we’ve accused of conspiracy with her, has pleaded guilty,” Brauchler said.
Investigators arrested Johnson and Higgins on Dec. 12, 2015, days before they say the pair planned to attack Mountain Vista High School as Christmas break approached. Authorities called the girls’ plans imminent.
The girls’ scheme, officials said, was foiled days before it was supposed to be carried out when the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office was alerted about the threat via text message. Most details of the alleged plot have not been made public, and documents in the case remain sealed.
During a January court hearing, however, prosecutors said Higgins searched the internet for ways to purchase firearms as a minor, using a site described as “a Craigslist for weapons.” Among her searches, Higgins also allegedly tried to find out whether a child could purchase weapons at gun shows and sought information on female mass shooters, authorities said.
Higgins wrote in her journal that she wished she could have participated in the 1999 Columbine High School attack, which left 12 students and a teacher dead, prosecutors said.
Authorities also said Sienna Johnson referenced the movie “Natural Born Killers” in her journal, an obsession of the Columbine High gunmen. Johnson’s friends raised concerns to a school counselor about her behavior several months before her arrest, The Denver Post found.
The Douglas County Sheriff ’s Office says it investigated the girl and ultimately dropped their probe because they found no criminal wrongdoing. About two months later, Johnson and Higgins were arrested.
King on Tuesday declined prosecutors’ request to release Higgins’ arrest documents.