Was a Boy Scout a cold-blooded killer inspired by TV reports of another slaying when he shot his parents to death, or did "insanity pull the trigger?"
The dueling depictions of 17-year-old Jeffrey Howorth emerged in opening statements Monday, with both sides acknowledging he pumped 14 rifle shots into his parents in March and fled in his mother's car."This was not madness, it was murder," prosecutor Doug Reich-ley told jurors.
Prosecutors contended Howorth got the idea from watching news reports of a killing three days earlier and 10 miles away, in which two teenage brothers killed their parents and a brother using knives and weight-lifting bars.
Seeing reports about those slayings "was a liberating act for Jeffrey Howorth," said Reichley, who later read jurors a rambling note the boy left behind referring to the killings.
"Those kids . . . were cool," the note read. "They killed their parents. I would be rough if I did that."
Defense lawyer Dennis Charles said his client was nothing like the brothers in the TV reports: avowed neo-Nazis who tattooed "Ber-zerker" and "Sieg Heil" on their foreheads and went to white power meetings.
Howorth, he said, was "a quiet and obedient boy," a church-going, varsity swimmer who - unknown to anyone - was a manic-depressive. The attorney said the boy should be acquitted by reason of insanity.
"Jeffrey Howorth held the .22-caliber rifle that killed his parents," Charles said. "But insanity pulled the trigger."
George and Susan Howorth were shot as they returned separately from work. The bodies were found by the couple's 20-year-old son, Stephen, a student at Pennsylvania State University.
Charles said his client was unable to take the pressure of living up to the expectations set up by his high-achieving older brother.
Howorth's attorney said the teen was "pushed over the edge" when he failed a Spanish exam in school on the day of the shootings.
"Do you kill your mother and father over a failed Spanish test if you're sane?" Charles asked.