JUDGE in West Palm Beach, Fla., sentences 14-year-old boy to 28 years for killing teacher

Friday, July 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A 14-year-old boy who shot to death his favorite teacher in a rage on the last day of school was sentenced Friday to 28 years in prison.

Nathaniel Brazill, who was tried as an adult, had faced a 25-year minimum sentence and up to life in prison for killing Barry Grunow at Lake Worth Middle School on May 26, 2000.

Brazill, wearing a bright red jumpsuit and shackles, showed little emotion as the judge rendered his decision.

In issuing the sentence, Circuit Judge Richard Wennet faced the decision of whether the teen would be a danger to society or could be rehabilitated. The 25-year minimum was without the possibility of parole or time off for good behavior, but Brazill could seek clemency or pursue appeals in the courts.

At a daylong sentencing hearing Thursday, Brazill apologized for the first time for killing the 35-year-old Grunow, telling the judge: ``Words cannot really explain how sorry I am, but they're all I have.''

Brazill insisted, however, as he did during his trial, that he didn't mean to hurt his teacher.

Hours before the sentencing, Brazill's mother, Polly Powell, said she hoped the judge would give a sentence that would let her son help other teens learn how to handle the kind of anger that caused her son to go to school with a gun.

``I'm quite sure that he can help the next child not go through something like this, help children realize that if something is bothering you, you know, talk with an adult, talk with somebody,'' Powell told CBS News' ``The Early Show.''

Grunow's mother and two brothers said Brazill was a danger to society and must be punished for the murder. They asked for a life sentence.

``This was not an accident. I think Nathaniel should be punished to the fullest extent of the law,'' said Phyllis Grunow, the victim's mother. ``I don't think any family should have to go through this.''

The judge gave Brazill 428 days credit for time served. He will serve his sentence at the Hillsborough Correctional Institute and ordered the teen to spend two years in a community controlled facility after the completion of his sentence.

Brazill also will spend five years on probation and be required to take anger management classes.

Brazill's mother testified Thursday, sobbing and wiping away tears as she asked the Grunow family for forgiveness and begged the judge to be lenient.

``Nathaniel is my first born and I love him like nobody else can. I just ask you that you please have mercy on him,'' Powell said.

Brazill was tried as an adult and convicted in May of second-degree murder for killing the English teacher he called a ``great man and a great teacher.''

Brazill had returned to school after being suspended by a counselor earlier that day for throwing water balloons. He shot Grunow after the teacher refused to let the seventh-grader talk to two girls in his class.

A defense witness testified that Brazill was a ``pot boiling over'' following his suspension and after years of silence about physical abuse of his mother by boyfriends.

``All this other stuff was exploding inside of him,'' said Jacqueline Patterson, deputy superintendent of Milwaukee schools.

Asked why Grunow was targeted, child psychologist James Gabarino, a Cornell University professor, testified that Brazill was in such a frenzy over his love life and the suspension that who the victim was ``may not have mattered.''

The defense had sought the minimum 25-year term. Brazill's family rejected a plea deal of 25 years offered by prosecutors before the trial.

Prosecutor Marc Shiner asked for a life sentence, but made a second recommendation of 40 years in prison and probation should the judge not sentence Brazill to life.

``This young man deserves to spend the rest of his life in jail without parole,'' Shiner said. ``That's the only way we can be sure he won't hurt someone again.''

Grunow's widow, Pam, told the judge that she didn't have a sentencing recommendation to the court but described her husband as a wonderful father with many friends and students who cared greatly for him.

``At home he enjoyed working in his garden and being Daddy,'' she said. ``He was devoted to us. We were his priority.''