Psychiatric evaluation factor in teen's sentencing - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Psychiatric evaluation factor in teen's sentencing

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BLUFFTON, SC (WTOC) -

The Bluffton High School student who brought a loaded gun, knives and explosive devices to school nearly a year ago will serve no more than five years in prison.

Austen Almeida could have faced more than 20 years in prison, but On Friday a judge sentenced him to a fraction of that, plus five years of probation once he's been released.

Almeida must also seek medical treatment or he'll go back to prison for 10 years.

Psychiatric evaluations revealed that Almeida suffers from several mental disorders, and the judge factored that into his decision on Friday.

Almeida pleaded guilty in February to carrying a weapon on school property, unlawful possession of a pistol, possession of explosive and destructive devices and disturbing school.

Almeida said he was going to chop people in to little bits and light them on fire.

"I was going to take gasoline and i was going to go like everybody get up to the corner and shut your mouths, and then i was going to douse them with gasoline," he said.

Prosecutors wanted the maximum sentence of 20 years, but after finding out that he suffers from ADHD, Asperger syndrome and depression, Judge Thomas Cooper reduced the sentence, saying both of the psychiatrists who evaluated him agreed.

Almeida's lawyer said this all could have been avoided if doctors would have diagnosed him sooner.

"If he had gotten the correct treatment, we believe nothing would have happened," said attorney Sam Bauer. "There would not have been any kind of crime committed, and the doctors agree."

Dr. Donna Schwartz-Watts, who was hired by the defense, said what happened that day was an error in judgement, which is a symptom of Asperger syndrome.

However, Deputy Solicitor Shawn Thornton disagrees because he said Almeida planned the attack five days earlier.  

"He said five days before that, he had gotten a new knife and thought, quote, ‘this could be fun if I could go and kill some people.'"

The defense argued that Almeida didn't kill anyone, and in fact, he was the one who turned himself in and asked for help.

Now he has to get help or he'll be in jail a lot longer. His mother reassured the judge that she and her family will make sure he gets the help he needs.

"The family fully intends to make Austen's mental health our utmost priority," said Almeida's mother, Denise Black.

Almeida said he thought about what he was going to do.

"I was going to chop people in to little bits and light them on fire," said Almeida. "When people started squirming or running, I was going to take the gasoline and I was going to go like ‘everybody get up to the corner and shut your mouths', and I was going to douse them with the gasoline and then I was going to light them"

Almeida said he stopped himself that day because he wanted help.

"I thought about hurting people but I didn't hurt anyone, and I believe that in the end I didn't hurt anyone because I'm not an evil person," he said.

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