A mo­ment of mad­ness?

A teacher lay dead... Had his stu­dent shot to kill?

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Nate de­manded to see his girl­friend

It was 26 May 2000, and the last day of term.

The long, hot sum­mer hol­i­days stretched be­fore the pupils of Lake Worth Com­mu­nity Mid­dle School, Florida.

But, as Nathaniel Brazill larked around with his school­mates, a wa­ter-bal­loon fight got out of hand.

Nathaniel, 13, known as Nate, was sent home in dis­grace. Sus­pended.

The young teen was seething about the way that his school year had ended.

Good-look­ing and pop­u­lar, he’d re­cently got to­gether with his school sweet­heart

– his first love.

Nate had been look­ing

for­ward to spend­ing their last day to­gether be­fore the three-month sum­mer break. Now, he wouldn’t get the chance to say good­bye. To make mat­ters worse, Nate’s grades had re­cently taken a dip.

His favourite teacher Barry Grunow, 35, who’d pre­vi­ously nom­i­nated Nate for a pres­ti­gious Stu­dent of the Year award, was about to give him an F in English.

Nate’s home life wasn’t much bet­ter, ei­ther.

Over the years, his al­co­holic sin­gle mum Polly had brought home a suc­ces­sion of vi­o­lent and abu­sive boyfriends.

The po­lice had been called five times, af­ter Polly had been beaten up by one of her lovers.

Now Nate was so fu­ri­ous at be­ing pre­vented from say­ing a proper good­bye to his girl­friend, he just couldn’t let it lie.

Mak­ing his way home in a grow­ing rage, he grabbed his grandad’s gun and put it in his pocket.

Then he stormed back to the school be­fore the fi­nal bell of the year.

Ap­pear­ing at the door­way of Barry Grunow’s class­room, in the mid­dle of an English les­son, Nate told the teacher that his girl­friend was in­side and de­manded to see her. He wanted to say good­bye. But Mr Grunow laughed, and re­fused.

The teacher walked over to the door­way.

But, as he tried to shut the door, Nate Brazill whipped the hand­gun out of his pocket.

Af­ter that, ev­ery­thing hap­pened very quickly.

Brazill cocked the gun. Then the boy pointed it straight at Mr Grunow.

And fired...

A loud, pop­ping sound rang out through the cor­ri­dors around the school.

The kids and teach­ers in other class­rooms heard it. The class screamed as Mr Grunow fell to the floor in a pool of blood.

He’d been shot in the head, right be­tween the eyes.

The po­lice raced to the scene of the shoot­ing.

Brazill had fled but was ar­rested close to the school.

He im­me­di­ately ad­mit­ted that he’d shot his teacher and was taken into cus­tody for ques­tion­ing.

Later, in the in­ter­ro­ga­tion room, the po­lice of­fi­cers told Nate Brazill the dev­as­tat­ing news.

Mr Grunow – a mar­ried fa­ther-of-two – was dead.

The skinny teenager was filmed shak­ing and weep­ing as the re­al­i­sa­tion of what he’d done hit him.

‘What was I think­ing? What was I think­ing?’ Brazill cried as he was charged with mur­der.

De­spite his young age, the au­thor­i­ties de­cided that he should face jus­tice as an adult.

In May 2001, Nathaniel Brazill went on trial.

He ad­mit­ted shoot­ing his teacher.

The killing had been cap­tured on the school’s CCTV, so there was no doubt who’d pulled the trig­ger.

But the defendant, by then 14, pleaded not guilty to mur­der, in­sist­ing it was man­slaugh­ter in­stead – a tragic mis­take, rather than an in­ten­tional act.

The court heard how Brazill had gone home, fu­ri­ous, af­ter be­ing sus­pended.

At home, he’d found a 25-cal­i­bre hand­gun owned by his grandad.

Putting it in his pocket, he’d headed back to school for a show­down.

Brazill tes­ti­fied in court him­self, and claimed the shoot­ing wasn’t pre­med­i­tated.

The for­mer A-grade stu­dent wept as he claimed it was com­pletely out of char­ac­ter.

He in­sisted that he’d never in­tended to harm his favourite teacher, let alone kill him.

He told the court he’d only aimed the gun at Mr Grunow

BARRY GRUNOW: Pop­u­lar teacher, dad-of-two

so that the teacher would take him se­ri­ously and let him see his girl­friend.

Brazill also claimed he didn’t pull the trig­ger in­ten­tion­ally – that he’d thought the safety catch was on.

‘He did not ex­pect the gun to go off,’ his de­fence lawyer Robert Udell told the court.

But the pros­e­cu­tion in­sisted that the shoot­ing had been pre-planned.

They painted Brazill as a cal­cu­lated, cold-blooded mur­derer who’d set out to bru­tally end Barry Grunow’s life that day.

‘This is not the act of a child,’ pros­e­cu­tion lawyer Marc Shiner told the jury.

‘This is the act of a per­son de­ter­mined to get what he wants at all cost.’ Dur­ing cross-ex­am­i­na­tion, Shiner handed Brazill the hand­gun, ask­ing him to show the jury how he’d shot Mr Grunow.

Rais­ing the gun, Brazill said, ‘I had the gun up with both hands like this.’ ‘Who pulled the trig­ger, Nate?’ Shiner asked. ‘I did,’ Brazill an­swered. ‘I pulled the trig­ger, but I didn’t in­tend to do it.’ The pros­e­cu­tion at­tempted to show pre­med­i­ta­tion, ask­ing Brazill if he re­called telling a class­mate that he was go­ing to shoot the mem­ber of staff who’d sus­pended him. Brazill had ear­lier de­nied mak­ing the state­ment but, in court, ad­mit­ted he’d said it – but not meant it.

An­other school­mate tes­ti­fied that Brazill had told friends be­fore the shoot­ing that he ‘was go­ing to be all over the news’.

The pros­e­cu­tion wanted Nathaniel Brazill to be con­victed of first-de­gree mur­der – the most se­ri­ous of homi­cide of­fences in the US.

The of­fence car­ries a manda­tory life sen­tence with no chance of pa­role.

This was jus­ti­fied, the pros­e­cu­tion ar­gued, be­cause the shoot­ing was wil­ful and pre­med­i­tated, and they said that Brazill had planned it.

The jury also had an al­ter­na­tive, lesser charge to con­sider – sec­ond-de­gree mur­der, which meant that, while the killing was in­ten­tional, it had been a ‘heat-of-the-mo­ment’ act, rather than pre-planned.

In con­trast, Brazill’s de­fence team in­sisted that the con­vic­tion should be for man­slaugh­ter.

They said that, while the teen’s neg­li­gence had led to his teacher’s death, he’d never meant to kill him.

And so the jury faced an ag­o­nis­ing de­ci­sion.

Was Barry Grunow’s death an aw­ful, tragic ac­ci­dent? A hot-deaded mo­ment, fu­elled by anger? Or cal­cu­lated, cold-blooded mur­der?

Had this child truly meant to kill..?

Ac­ci­dent – or cold­blooded mur­der? What do you think? Turn for the verdict…

Nate’s mum Polly had a chaotic life. She died in 2008 CRIME SCENE: Slain in school

Nathaniel Brazill: an­gry teenager

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