SALT LAKE CITY — A teenager accused of making and trying to detonate a backpack bomb at a St. George high school has been ordered to stand trial.
The Wednesday ruling follows days of testimony from experts and police who said the boy had long been bullied and had read internet articles on how to make bombs.
The 16-year-old told investigators he was responsible for the device that began smoking near a vending machine at Pine View High School in March and that he did not really care if people got hurt, according to video shown in court.
Fifth District Juvenile Judge Paul Dame on Wednesday said there is enough evidence to advance the case against the teen.
"I do find that the state has met their burden proving probable cause on attempted murder," and on other charges in the case, he said.
Prosecutors want the 16-year-old to be tried as an adult. A hearing scheduled for next week will determine whether the case will remain in the juvenile system or move to district court.
In addition to attempted murder, the boy is charged with using a weapon of mass destruction. Both charges are first-degree felonies. The Deseret News has chosen not to identify him at this time.
Tim Kockler, a St. George psychologist who evaluated the teen after his arrest, testified last week that he had "experienced a lifetime history of bullying" and didn't seem to grasp the severity of the situation, the Spectrum newspaper in St. George reported.
Kockler said the boy is high-functioning on the autism spectrum, a diagnosis that affects how he handles emotions, and has borderline intellectual functioning, which has an impact on how he relates to people. He said the teen grew up in a loving, busy household and didn't appear to lack nurturing.
The teen's defense attorney, Stephen Harris, said after Wednesday's hearing that he doesn't believe a jury would sustain the attempted murder and weapons of mass destruction charges.
"We've got a young man that's 16 years of age that's been bullied his entire life," he said. Harris added that the teen's autism diagnosis helps to explain his behavior and his thought process.
On Wednesday, the boy also was bound over for trial on charges of graffiti and abuse of a flag, both misdemeanors. He is accused of using spray paint to write "ISIS is comi--" on a school wall at Hurricane High School, and of cutting up an American flag at the school, replacing it on a flag pole with a homemade ISIS flag.
A search of the teen's laptop showed he had read web pages on how to build bombs and a fuse, FBI Special Agent Chris Andersen testified on June 18. The boy also looked up variations of ISIS and videos calling for recruits to join the group, as well as diagrams of Hurricane High and other schools across the state.
In an interview with police shown in court, the boy said he was responsible for the graffiti, flag, and the backpack device, and that he wanted to cause fear. He told police in the interview that in the past, other kids didn't treat him right and he wanted to see what would happen with the backpack. He also said he thought his parents would be upset.
When police asked him during the recording if he didn't really care if people got hurt, he agreed, responding, "I don't really care."
School surveillance footage shows the teen walking with two backpacks near a lunchroom on March 5, prosecutors said, before he set down one of the bags near a vending machine, lit a fuse and walked away.4 comments on this story
Students alerted teachers and a school resource officer after smoke and a strong smell came from the backpack, investigators said. The incendiary device that started smoking could have started a large fire but would not have exploded, a bomb expert testified on the first day of the hearing in May.
Deputy Washington County Attorney Angela Adams argued the device's failure to explode didn't have any effect on the high schooler's intent, which she said was to scare and kill people.
"The evidence shows his intent was to build an explosive device," she said.
The teen is due back in court in St. George on July 5.