Perry Hall High School student Robert W. Gladden Jr. pleaded guilty Tuesday to attempted murder in a shooting attack on a schoolmate last August, bringing an abrupt end to his trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
Gladden, 15, had told investigators that he wanted to kill himself when he fired his father's shotgun in a crowded lunchroom on the first day of school. Now he could be imprisoned until he is 55.
Returning to court two weeks after failing to convince a judge that he should be tried as a juvenile, Gladden formally admitted Tuesday to shooting 17-year-old Daniel Borowy, a special-needs student at the public school.
Borowy has recovered from a wound to the back and has returned to school.
Gladden also pleaded guilty to using a firearm in a violent crime. Prosecutors dropped 27 other charges in exchange for the plea.
Gladden now faces a maximum of 40 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced next week.
In court Tuesday, Gladden spoke only to mumble "yes" in response to questions from Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr. about whether he understood the terms of the plea agreement.
His mother, sister and other relatives cried gently during the hearing. Gladden wore the same blue-and-white striped, oversize short-sleeve dress shirt he wore at a hearing earlier this month.
Neither Borowy nor his parents were in court Tuesday. They did not attend the previous hearing. Messages to Daniel Borowy's father seeking comment were not returned.
Gladden's attorney said "Bobby" had decided "not to bring more heartache to the family."
"By putting this behind us, the community can heal and move forward," attorney George Psoras Jr. said.
But he added: "I still don't think he understands the magnitude. When you are 15 years old, what is life?"
Psoras said Gladden turned down an agreement to plead guilty to the same two charges in exchange for a life sentence.
Two weeks ago, Psoras had argued that Gladden would fare better in the juvenile system, where he would have access to intense, psychiatric treatment.
But Cahill denied the request, calling Gladden a threat to public safety, among other factors.
Early on the morning of Aug. 27, a chilling post appeared on Gladden's Facebook page: "First day of school, last day of my life."
Prosecutors say Gladden took a shotgun from his father's Hawthorne home, disassembled the weapon, concealed it in a Bob Marley backpack and took it with him on the school bus to Perry Hall High. He also carried 21 shotgun shells and a bottle of vodka.
In an interview videotaped by detectives and played during the hearing earlier this month, Gladden said he planned to kill others and himself "to make a point: that the world is a f— -up place."
Prosecutors say Gladden stashed the shotgun in a bathroom, attended his first few classes and waited until the end of lunch period. They say he told two friends to leave the lunchroom for their safety.
Prosecutors do not believe Gladden discussed his plan with anyone. They say he retrieved the weapon, returned to the lunchroom and opened fire. They say he told a detective later that day that he "just went for the biggest group."
Borowy was hit in the back. School employees restrained Gladden before he could shoot anyone else.
Gary Gephardt, a school resource officer who went to the cafeteria after hearing what sounded to him like firecrackers, handcuffed and searched Gladden. Gephardt testified that Gladden asked him, "Can I get the death penalty for this? Because I wanted to kill him."
Gephardt said he found shotgun shells in Gladden's pockets, along with a suicide note in which Gladden thanked his father for leaving the gun accessible and said he had nothing to tell his mother.
At the hearing earlier this month, Gladden expressed remorse for injuring Borowy and said he wanted to meet him or write a letter of apology.
"I'm here today because I made the stupidest, dumbest decision," Gladden read from a statement. "I've caused enough pain and hurt. I know I can do so much better."
Psoras argued during the hearing that Gladden was not a dangerous criminal but a disturbed teen in need of psychiatric treatment. Gladden had shown remorse after being prescribed Prozac at the Baltimore County Detention Center, Psoras said, which demonstrated that he could respond to treatment.
But prosecutors argued that Gladden was not remorseful. They played recordings of conversations at the Baltimore County Detention Center between Gladden and family members. In one, Gladden said, "You know what school I wish I went to? Sandy Hook Elementary." A gunman killed 20 children and six staff members at the school in Newtown, Conn., in December.
Prosecutors also played recorded conversations in which he denied ever having been bullied and spoke of how he liked being an outcast.
"They keep saying that I was bullied," he told his father. "It makes me mad. I wasn't bullied at all."
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Prosecutors referred to reports from staff at Spring Grove Hospital, where Gladden was evaluated after his arrest, that he initiated fistfights with a 12-year-old in the boys bathroom, cracked his knuckles while standing over a group leader in an attempt to intimidate and made persistent threats to a patient who had to be placed in protection.
Several mental health professionals and a social worker testified that Gladden needs psychiatric treatment. They said he has been troubled since a very young age, with thoughts of suicide when he was in elementary school, which were heightened during his parents' divorce and when close relatives killed themselves.
Gladden struggled with schoolwork and was suspended numerous times. He was transferred to an alternative school when in seventh grade after he brought oregano to school and pretended it was marijuana.
After performing well at the alternative school, Gladden was allowed to attend Perry Hall. But his grades deteriorated, and he was suspended for writing threats to a schoolmate on Facebook.
Gladden had no criminal record before the shooting.
The Perry Hall shooting and other incidents led Baltimore County officials to appoint an administrative security officer for the school system and to give metal-detection wands to school resource officers. County and school officials recently announced an added $3.7 million for security improvements.