Judge has hope school shooter can be a productive member of society
It's been almost two years since the shooting at Harrisburg High School and Wednesday the case against the shooter wrapped up in court.
Mason Buhl pleaded guilty to attempted murder, in exchange for a plea deal with state prosecutors.
His charge of commissioning a felony armed with a firearm was dropped.
Judge Bradley Zell handed down a 25 year suspended sentence, which means he will not spend any time behind bars for that crime. But he did commit Buhl to 15 years of supervised probation.
Mason Buhl has been in custody since the shooting nearly two years ago.
On September 30th, 2015 he showed up to school with a gun, an extra clip, 50 bullets, and shot his principal Kevin Lein.
"I completely forgave Mason immediately," Kevin Lein said.
Buhl's attorney Mike Butler told the judge doctors say Buhl suffered from major depressive disorder and the shooting was a single episode.
"I think there were things that happened in his life that lead to some sort of trigger that caused this impulsive act," Lein said.
Since being in custody, Butler says the teen has transformed.
He is being treated for his mental health issues and hasn't had any behavioral issues since the day of the shooting.
He also pointed out that Buhl doesn't have any criminal history except for his actions in the school shooting.
The defense argued that this was a violent and premeditated act, forever disturbing the peace in the community.
"Society is really punitive. I'm assuming some in our community are going to feel that this is inappropriate and a very light sentence for the act that he committed," Lein said.
Buhl apologized for what he did.
He specifically named Lein saying he hopes he can live the rest of his life proving to him that he can be a productive member of society.
"I really appreciate him naming me specifically. I don't think he directed it specifically at me. Our relationship had just begun. I think it was more of the circumstance and my office that he probably aimed at," Lein said.
Zell said he needed to ensure the sentence would protect the public, serve as a punishment, and could aid in Buhl’s rehabilitation.
The judge weighed Buhl's age and mental state heavily while determining a sentence.
He explained he thought that Buhl had the potential to be rehabilitated and he didn’t think prison or juvenile detention would be appropriate for him.
"If the judge, and I’m trusting the judge….Knowing that Masons not a threat to anybody else, then I think this is great for him," Lein said.
Buhl's suspended sentence can be revoked at any time if the judge believes the teen has entered into violent behavior again.
While he may only have a 15 year supervised probation, Buhl will have his suspended prison time hanging over his head until the full 25 years have passed.
The judge made it clear he wants Buhl to continue getting the mental help he needs.
There are several terms of Buhl's probation which include not being able to drink alcohol or gamble, being subject to random searches and urine testing, and cannot leave South Dakota without getting permission from the state.
Buhl was not released from custody Wednesday afternoon.