In September 1998, Kip Kinkel confessed to killing his parents in their home on
May 20, 1998 and the next day, walking into the Thurston High School
cafeteria and spraying students with 50 rounds from a semiautomatic rifle,
killing two students, Ben Walker, 16, and Mikael Nickolauson, 17, and wounding
25 others. Kip was charged with four counts of aggravated murder and 26 counts
of aggravated attempted murder (for the 25 students he wounded, plus his later
assault on a police detective.)
In November 1999, he was sentenced to more than 111 years in prison, without a
chance of parole. The sentence was handed down after a six-day hearing in which
Lane County Circuit Court Judge Jack Mattison heard details of Kip's
crimes from investigators and eyewitnesses, listened to debates about Kip's
mental health, and heard statements from the victims and their families. This
summary of the proceedings is based on reporting by FRONTLINE producer Miri
An obvious tactic for Kip's defense lawyers would be to claim that he was
insane. However, on September 24, 1999, three days before jury selection was
set to begin, Kip pleaded guilty to the lesser counts of murder and attempted
murder, abandoning the possibility of being acquitted by reason of insanity.
Under the plea agreement, Kip would serve somewhere between 25 and 220 years.
The Oregon mandatory sentencing statute, Measure 11, required a sentence of 25
years for each of the four counts of murder. The prosecutors agreed to
recommend that those sentences be served concurrently, so that Kip could serve
as little as 25 years for the murders. Both sides agreed to the mandatory
minimumsentence of 7 1/2 years for each of the attempted murder charges. It was
up to the judge to determine whether any or all of those sentences should be
served concurrently or consecutively. If he chose to apply them all
concurrently, Kip could have served just 25 years; consecutively, they could
have amounted to 195 additional years, for a total of 220.
Mark Sabitt, Kip's trial lawyer, spoke to FRONTLINE about the decision to plead
guilty, foregoing the chance to argue an insanity defense at trial. Sabitt and
his co-counsel, Rich Mullen, felt the plea agreement's provision for Judge
Mattison to determine the sentence for the attempted murder charges left them
better situated for a lesser sentence than they would have been before a jury.
Both lawyers had tried cases before Judge Mattison before, and had found him
to be a fair-minded and dispassionate fact finder. Sabitt said that they
trusted Mattison to evaluate the facts and issue a just sentence. As a
practical matter, they felt, a jury might be swayed by negative public
perception of insanity defenses and by the fear of what would happen if Kip was
released, rather than the isolated question of whether he was responsible for
his actions. In retrospect, Sabitt said, "Of course, now we wonder why we
didn't take it to trial."
Under Oregon law, a sentencing hearing is like a mini-trial, in which both
sides present evidence to the judge to argue for a more severe or more lenient
sentence. The rules of evidence are slightly more relaxed than in an actual
trial, however. For example, experts are allowed to express their opinions more
freely than in a jury trial.
Over the course of the six-day hearing, which started on November 2, 1999,
Judge Jack Mattison heard testimony from many people: Kip's friends and
family, detectives, teachers, doctors and psychiatrists. He also heard
statements from many of the shooting victims and their families.
On the first day of the hearing, the state presented its entire case in less
than four hours. District attorneys Kent Mortimore and Caren Tracy focused on
detailing the murder of Kip's parents and his shooting spree, relying on
eyewitnesses's testimony at the school and the police investigators who first
gathered evidence from the Kinkel house.
Detective Pam McComas was one of the first to arrive at the Kinkel home on May
21. She testified about what she saw there. The bodies of both Faith and Bill
Kinkel were covered in sheets, Bill locked in the bathroom, Faith in the
garage. Bill had a single bullet wound behind his right ear, and Faith had
five separate bullet wounds to the head, and one in her chest. Five bullets
were lodged in her brain, and one in her heart. The soundtrack to the movie
"Romeo and Juliet" was in the CD player, set to continuous play. A handwritten
note lay on the coffee table, next to a copy of a newspaper from May 21, the
day after Faith and Bill were shot. The note was Kip's confession, filled with
misspellings and crossed out words:
I have just killed my parents! I don't know what is happening. I love my mom
and dad so much. I just got two felonies on my record. My parents can't take
that! It would destroy them. The embarrassment would be too much for them. They
couldn't live with themselves. I'm so sorry. I am a horrible son. I wish I had
been aborted. I destroy everything I touch. I can't eat. I can't sleep. I
didn't deserve them. They were wonderful people. It's not their fault or the
fault of any person, organization, or television show. My head just doesn't
work right. God damn these VOICES inside my head. I want to die. I want to be
gone. But I have to kill people. I don't know why. I am so sorry! Why did God
do this to me. I have never been happy. I wish I was happy. I wish I made my
mother proud. I am nothing! I tried so hard to find happiness. But you know me
I hate everything. I have no other choice. What have I become? I am so sorry
In addition to the newspaper, which looked as though Kip had read it after
killing his parents, McComas presented other evidence suggesting that Kip had
been lucid and rational after he killed Bill and Faith: a recently used cereal
bowl and forensic evidence showing that Kip had cleaned up blood from the
McComas also read excerpts from a journal found in Kip's bedroom:
I sit here all alone. I am always alone. I don't know who I am. I want to be
something I can never be. I try so hard every day. But in the end, I hate
myself for what I've become. ... I am strong, but my head just doesn't work
right. I know I should be happy with what I have, but I hate living. ... I am
so full of rage that I feel I could snap at any moment. I think about it
everyday. Blowing the school up or just taking the easy way out, and walk into
a pep assembly with guns. In either case, people that are breathing will stop
breathing. ... It is clear that no one will help me. Oh God, I am so close
to killing people. So close. ...
Also found in Kip's room were an extensive collection of knives, several books
containing instructions on making explosives, some chemicals, a sawed off
shotgun and a handgun. Among his things there was a picture of the Thurston
High football team with one member's face circled in black electrical tape, and
the word "kill" written beside it. Bomb squad members found explosive materials
and partially assembled bombs in the crawl space under the Kinkel house.
A number of students testified about the cafeteria shoot-out. A friend of
Kip's, Adam Pearse, was walking with two friends when they ran into Kip on the
way to the cafeteria. Pearse said Kip told him to stay away from the cafeteria.
Others described Kip shooting Ben Walker and Ryan Atteberry and then opening
fire on the students gathered in the cafeteria.
Detective Al Warthen interviewed Kip immediately after his arrest, and read
part of the transcript of the tape of his confession. On cross-examination, the
defense played a portion of the confession in which he talks about killing his
parents. Kip becomes increasingly upset as he describes killing his father and
putting a sheet over his body, wailing and crying and hyperventilating. Through
his tears he says, "I told her I loved her," before he killed his mother. Then
he screams, "God damn the voices in my head!"
Prosecutors did not present any expert psychiatric or psychological testimony,
though they had retained and were prepared to call Dr. Park Dietz, a nationally
known forensic psychiatrist who has testified in many highly publicized murder
trials, most often as rebuttal for insanity defenses. He examined and evaluated
Kip after his arrest, but his report has not been released.
Kip's sister Kristin testified for the defense. She described their
parents as loving, giving, "extraordinary people," and what she recalls as an
average childhood, filled with sports activities, family dinners and summers at
camp. She said she always thought of Kip as a "regular kid," fun, funny, very
sensitive, and hardworking. By his late elementary school years, she was away
at college and so was less aware of the situation at home, but knew that in
middle school he started having problems. He became more withdrawn, she said,
and went through a stage of dressing all in black. Kristin also described Kip's
academic troubles; she said that although he was a very hard worker, he had a
difficult time at school, especially with writingand spelling, and this
caused some strain in his relationship with their parents, especially his
father. In general, she said she had perceived him as a normal teenaged boy,
who had good times and more difficult times. She closed with by reading a
letter to the judge, appealing to him to try to see the good person and
potential she believed remains in Kip, "buried inside."
· Read Kristin's letter to the judge.|
· Examine more of her interview with FRONTLINE.
The defense presented a number of experts in an effort to prove that Kip was
Dr. Jeffrey Hicks was the only one who had met Kip prior to the shootings, and
the only one who did not testify that Kip was mentally ill. The others, who
concurred that Kip was suffering from some sort of mental disorder, had
examined him for the defense after he was in custody.
Hicks, a child psychologist, had met with Kip and his mother, Faith, nine
times between January and June, 1997. He testified that Faith had
brought Kip to see him because she had been concerned about his fascination
with guns, knives and explosives and his "anti-social acting out." During his
treatment of Kip, Hicks found him to be depressed and angry. In his notes from
their first session, Hicks said Kip reported that he often felt angry, without
knowing why, and set off explosives to vent those feelings. His work with Kip
and Faith focused on strategies to help Kip manage his anger without resorting
to explosives, and improving Kip's strained relationship with his father, Bill.
At one point, he said, he recommended that Kip try an anti-depressant, so Faith
took Kip to their family physician who prescribed Prozac for him. Soon after he
began taking the drug, Kip's mood seemed to improve substantially and he no
longer appeared to be depressed. By the time Kip and Faith decided to end
treatment, Hicks said he felt that Kip made progress in his ability to manage
his anger and communicate with family members, and that his depression had
In the course of his treatment, Hicks said, he saw no evidence that Kip was
psychotic or delusional. Kip made no mention of any voices in their
nine sessions. The only time "voices" came up was in his initial interview
with Kip, when Hicks conducted a routine intake screening for delusional
thinking and hallucinations. He asked Kip if he heard voices when there was no
one there, and Kip said no.
It was during the course of his therapy with Dr. Hicks that Bill Kinkel bought
Kip a 9 mm Glock semi-automatic pistol, one of the guns Kip brought to school
on May 21. Hicks testified that he was not consulted about that decision.
· Read excerpts from Hick's testimony.|
· Read his treatment notes on Kip.
Dr. Orin Bolstad
Another psychologist who testified for the defense was Dr. Orin Bolstad who
works with juvenile killersin the Oregon penal system. After Kip's arrest, he
met with him for over 32 hours. In addition to interviewing Kip and performing
a battery of psychological tests, Bolstad examined school and medical records,
reports from other psychiatrists and psychologists, Kip's writings and other
In his testimony, which lasted almost four hours, Bolstad said that it was
clear to him that Kip suffered from a psychotic disorder with major paranoid
symptoms, potentially some form of early onset schizophrenia.
Many of Bolstad's tests indicated that Kip had a major learning disorder,
manifested by difficulty spelling and writing. Other tests, Bolstad said,
revealed a very depressed, alienated child who sees adults as unfair, arbitrary
and untrustworthy. He has very low self esteem, and is manipulative and
Bolstad described a number of delusional beliefs that Kip related to him: his
fear that the Chinese were going to invade America (Kip stored explosives under
his house in order to be prepared); that Disney was taking over the world--the
Disney dollar, with Mickey Mouse on the front, would replace the American
dollar; that there were chips planted in his head by the government.
Much of Bolstad's testimony detailed Kip's reported auditory hallucinations.
They began, according to Kip, in 6th grade. Kip told him that he remembered the
first time he heard a voice; it said, "You are a stupid piece of shit. You
aren't worth anything." They scared and upset him, he said, and he tried
various things to quiet them: biking, watching TV, punching his head. According
to Bolstad, Kip said that he never told anyone about the voices because he was
embarrassed. He didn't want anyone, especially girls, to think he was crazy.
Bolstad also related his discussion with Kip about an incident in 1998 when he
had disrupted English class by shouting, "God damn this voice inside my head!"
This is the only time before the shootings that any mention of voices was
Bolstad believed that Kip murdered his parents and opened fired on fellow
students the next day (killing two and injuring 25) under the influence of
these hallucinatory voices. He described Kip recounting the voices to him: "'My
Dad was sitting at the bar [in the kitchen]. The voices said, 'Shoot him.' I
had no choice. The voices said I had no choice.' and later, after he killed his
mother, 'The voices said, 'Go to school and kill everybody. Look what you've
already done.'" During cross-examination, Bolstad stated categorically, "I
think the primary thing that was operating in his feeling and need to kill ...
were the voices."
When he was asked by the state attorneys about the chance of letting Kip free
on the streets, Bolstad said that he did not believe that there was any way to
cure Kip's disorder, but that it could be managed with medication: "I would not
want to see Kip Kinkel out on the streets, ever, with this condition...
without medicine and without an awful lot of structure and support services
arranged for him."
· Read excerpts from Bolstad's testimony.|
Another child psychiatrist who interviewed Kip --twice after his arrest-- was
Dr. William Sack. Based on his evaluation and the raw data from Bolstad's testing,
Sack testified that he was confident that Kip was "a very very sick psychotic
individual." His evaluation of Kip echoed Bolstad's; although he was reluctant
to diagnose Kip definitively because of his young age--he testified that 15 and
16 year olds' personalities are still emerging, making it difficult to
determine a particular pathology with certainty--he said he thought that as he
grew older, Kip eventually might fall into the schizoaffective category or into
paranoid schizophrenia. Like Bolstad, Sack believed Kip was driven to kill by
these auditory hallucinations: "I feel his crimes and his behavior over those
two days are the direct result of a psychotic product that was building over
three years that suddenly emerged, taking over his ego."
In response to questions about whether Kip could be lying or faking mental
illness, Sack described his "validity analysis" of Kip, a formal evaluation of
the content and consistency of Kip's statements, his affect during the
interviews and the results of various tests designed to figure out if he was
telling the truth. Sack concluded that Kip was so consistent in the details of
his stories and emotional reactions that he was as sure as he could be that Kip
was not faking. He said, "If he were lying to me, he would be the best actor
I've ever seen. And if he were lying to me, he fooled me, and I stand fooled."
He also said that schizophrenics tended to be very secretive, and don't tell
others about hallucinatory voices, especially when they are younger, and that
therefore he was not surprised that Kip had not mentioned his voices before his
arrest. Regarding the lucid moments Kip had between killing his parents and his
rampage at school--Kip reportedly ate a bowl of cereal and talked on the phone
to his friends after killing his father, and stopped on his way into the
cafeteria to warn a friend off--Sack said that such moments were not
inconsistent with emerging schizophrenia.
· Read excerpts of Sack's testimony.|
The defense also presented evidence of a history of mental illness in Kip's
family. Joyce Naffziger, a private investigator, testified about her discovery
of multiple cases of mental illness in Kip's extended family, including
Dr. Richard J. Konkol, pediatric neurologist,also testified for the
defense. He showed an image of a computerized scan of Kip's brain which
he said showed "holes" in areas of the brain. These images revealed reduced
blood flow to the frontal lobe, the area associated with emotional control and
decision making. He testified that this reduced brain activity was consistent
with new research on children who become schizophrenic, and that he thought it
could make Kip more susceptible to a psychotic episode. He added that he
thought Kip might improve under proper medication and treatment. It was during
Konkol's testimony that Kip lifted his head and watched the proceedings. He had
laid his face down on the table or hidden it with his arms for most of the
· Read excerpts from Konkol's testimony.|
After the defense presented its evidence, Judge Mattison heard five hours of
statements from 50 victims and members of their families. Unanimously, they
called for Mattison to give Kip the maximum possible sentence, and took the
opportunity to address Kip directly with their anger and pain. Some described
the physical pain from the injuries Kip inflicted; many more described their
emotional scars--children unable to sleep for nightmares, afraid to go to
school, and relationships between parents and children horribly strained by the
ordeal. Many of the victims attacked Kip, vehemently expressing their wishes
that he should suffer as they did. Others made reasoned arguments to Judge
Mattison, calling for the maximum sentence to keep their community safe and to
send a message to other troubled teenagers who may be prone to violence. Kip
raised his head and met the eyes of a number of the victims as they spoke.
Some of their statements are excerpted here:
Jacob Ryker: I don't care if you're sick, if you're insane, if you're
crazy. I don't care. I think prison, a lifetime in prison is too good for you.
... I don't think you should go to prison. I think the victims should get to do
to you what you did to them. I think you should have to suffer in the hospital
like they did.
Mark Walker: If Mr. Kinkel is sitting in prison without possibility of
release for the rest of his life, it might -- just might -- keep some other
young person from taking a gun to school. That would be the only positive thing
that could come from this tragedy.
Bettina Lynn: I saw so much that day that haunts me. I remember seeing
Jesse in front of me, with blood all over his white shirt. ... I saw Jennifer
with blood all over her face and neck, and I assumed that she was already dead.
I saw a body behind me on the other side of the table, and I didn't know who it
· Read more of the victims' statements.|
Before his sentence was read to him, Kip read the following statement to the
I have spent days trying to figure out what I want to say. I have crumpled up
dozens of pieces of paper and disregarded even more ideas. I have thought about
what I could say that might make people feel just a little bit better. But I
have come to the realization that it really doesn't matter what I say. Because
there is nothing I can do to take away any of the pain and destruction I have
caused. I absolutely loved my parents and had no reason to kill them. I had no
reason to dislike, kill or try to kill anyone at Thurston. I am truly sorry
that this has happened. I have gone back in my mind hundreds of times and
changed one detail, one small event so this never would have happened. I wish I
could. I take full responsibility for my actions. These events have pulled me
down into a state of deterioration and self-loathing that I didn't know
existed. I am very sorry for everything I have done, and for what I have
After the victims spoke, Kent Mortimore, for the state, and Mark Sabitt, for the defense, concluded by presenting their sentencing recommendations to Judge Mattison. Mortimore called for the maximum sentence, 220 years, and rebuked the defense for attempting to portray Kip as mentally ill: "From a very early age, Kip Kinkel was a very nasty, violent, easy-to-frustrate and easy-to-anger boy. This was his essence long before any so-called mental illness." Sabitt responded, noting that the state had offered no testimony to contradict Sack or Bolstad, and appealed to the Mattison to be lenient, taking into consideration Kip's young age and mental state: "In a civilized society, we cannot lock up our mentally ill, neurologically impaired fifteen-year-old offenders and throw away the key without a hope for the future."
· Read the state's recommendation.|
· Read the defense's recommendation.
On November 9, Judge Mattison made his final ruling. He opened his statement by
citing a 1996 change to the Oregon State Constitution, which shifted the focus
of criminal punishment from "the principles of reformation" to the protection
of society and personal accountability. He said, "To me, this was a clear
statement that the protection of society in general was to be of more
importance than the possible reformation or rehabilitation of any individual
defendant," and that "... my focus must be much broader than the possible
reformation or rehabilitation of Mr. Kinkel." He acknowledged that experts
believed that with long-term and extensive medical and therapeutic treatment,
Kip might not pose a danger to society if set free, but that at the same time,
there was no guaranteed cure for Kip's condition, and that it was unlikely that
it would ever be safe to let him be free without extensive supervision and
Mattison also focused on the requirement that the sentence should be sufficient
to hold Kip accountable for his actions. Referring to the testimony of Kip's
surviving victims and their families, he wrote, "It became very apparent
yesterday that this sentence needed to account for each of the wounded, who
rightly call themselves survivors, and for Mr. Kinkel to know there was a price
to be paid for each person hit by his bullets."
The final sentence for the 26 attempted murder charges was 1040 months, or
86.67 years. Added to the 25 years for the four murders, Kip was sentenced to
almost 112 years.
· Read in full the judge's statement|
Immediately after the sentence was handed down, Kip was transferred to the
MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, a state juvenile prison. He is housed in
the Secure Intensive Treatment Program with other young men imprisoned for
violent crimes. He will attend school and take part in intensive therapy
specifically developed for young violent offenders. He may remain at MacLaren
until he turns 25; the length of his stay will be determined by the staff's
assessment of his participation in the program and his suitability for adult
prison. Kip is the first juvenile to serve a life sentence in the state of
On December 8, 1999, the Public Defender for the state of Oregon filed a notice
of appeal of Kip's sentence. Jesse Barton, deputy public defender, said the
primary basis for appeal would be that Kip's sentence amounts to "cruel and
unusual punishment," defined in the Oregon State Constitution as one which
"shocks the moral sense of all reasonable persons." He will also likely argue
that the sentence violates Oregon's sentencing guidelines. Other possible
avenues include the argument that Kip was denied due process because he was not
granted a hearing to determine if he should be tried in juvenile court, and
that Judge Mattison erred in his interpretation of the factors he was required
to weigh under the new constitutional language.
The appeal process is expected to be lengthy and contentious. A decision from
the appellate court is not likely until at least the spring of 2001, and after
that, it is probable that one side will appeal to the state Supreme Court. If
the appeals fail, the only chance Kip has for a life out of prison will be a
commutation of his sentence by the governor, if he can prove that he is
rehabilitated, has atoned for his crime and no longer poses a threat to
society. Such commutations are extremely rare, especially in cases involving