WOBURN, Mass. A Massachusetts teenager was convicted Thursday of first-degree murder for fatally stabbing another student in what prosecutors described as a random attack at a suburban Boston high school.
A jury in Middlesex Superior Court rejected a defense assertion that John Odgren was legally insane when he stabbed 15-year-old James Alenson in a boys’ bathroom at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School on Jan. 19, 2007.
Odgren, now 19, showed no outward emotion as the verdict was announced. He then sat down in his chair and was comforted by his attorneys. Alenson’s mother could be heard sobbing.
A first-degree murder conviction in Massachusetts carries an automatic life sentence with no possibility for parole.
Odgren’s lawyers depicted him as a troubled 16-year-old with a long history of emotional problems and disorders, including Asperger’s syndrome — a form of autism — attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression.
“We was mentally ill presently, at the time of the crime, and since he was a child, and to say, ‘That doesn’t mean anything,’ is to put ones head in the sand,” said Odgren’s attorney, Jonathan Shapiro, to WBUR after the verdict.
Odgren’s father testified that his son, who had a genius-level IQ, was anxious and would not socialize with other children. He was teased and harassed at various schools he attended, and talked of suicide at age 9, his father said.
Three child behavioral specialists testifying for the defense said that Odgren had lost touch with reality and was in a state of paranoia when he stabbed Alenson. They said he was not criminally responsible for killing Alenson.
The defense experts cited Odgren’s fascination with Stephen King’s series of books, “The Dark Tower,” and his obsession with the number 19, which is symbolic in the books. Odgren stabbed Alenson on the 19th day of the month and year.
But prosecutors depicted Odgren as a calculating killer who brought a carving knife to school, then picked a victim at random.
A state-certified psychiatrist testifying for prosecutors said Odgren knew what he was doing and was aware of the consequences when he attacked Alenson. She cited statements he made to authorities after the killing, when he admitted killing Alenson and asked about the possible sentence for manslaughter.
“I did it. I just snapped. I don’t know why,” Odgren told a teacher who ran to the scene.
Following the trial, Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone said the verdict provides a measure of justice.
“We send our kids to school every single day expecting a safe haven, and no parent should have to bury their child prematurely,” Leone said.
Had the jury found Odgren not guilty by reason of insanity, he would have been sent to a psychiatric hospital until a judge ruled he was no longer a danger to society.
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