GILLETTE — A former Sage Valley Junior High School student who took two handguns to school and expressed an intent to shoot other students and a teacher won’t spend the rest of his life in an adult prison.
Dale Warner, 15, pleaded guilty to a pair of lesser felony charges Friday in exchange for dismissal of nine counts of attempted first-degree murder. He could serve up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of possession of a deadly weapon with unlawful intent. He also pleaded no contest to one charge of aggravated assault, which could earn him a sentence of three to 10 years.
Warner, then 14, was arrested Nov. 13, 2018, after a classmate alerted school principal Terry Quinn about Warner being armed and intending to kill people. Nobody was hurt, but the Gillette Police Department recovered the two weapons and 43 rounds of ammunition from the teen and his locker.
After attempts to have Warner’s charges moved into juvenile court failed, Friday’s plea agreement is about the best outcome the boy and his family could expect, said Jefferson Coombs, supervising attorney for the Campbell County office of the Wyoming Public Defender’s Office.
“We continue to be disappointed” he wasn’t charged as a juvenile in the case, Coombs said. “We thought it was overcharged from the beginning and I think he understands this was serious.
“But with the transfer to the juvenile court being denied, we feel this plea agreement was in his best interest.”
A sentencing hearing will be held in May, where he and prosecutors can address District Court Judge Michael N. “Nick” Deegan about how much prison time he’ll have to serve, Coombs said. The least amount of time would have him released by the time he’s 19 and in his early 20s with the maximum.
Although he was charged as an adult, because he is still a minor he’ll serve his time until age 18 at a juvenile facility in Omaha, Nebraska.
“He’s going to be shipped to a juvenile facility … that does have a high school, substance abuse treatment, trauma treatment and the things he needs,” Coombs said.
While Warner admits he took the guns to school, he maintains he only wanted to scare some people and not physically hurt anyone, Coombs said, which is what he told Deegan on Friday on entering his plea.
“He basically said, ‘I had two guns with me and I intended to threaten people in order to scare them,’” he said. “He doesn’t admit he was actually going to do something.”
Coombs also said he felt Warner was sincere in telling the court what he did and showed accountability.
“I think I was very pleased with how he presented himself to the court. He told the truth, was sincere and took responsibility for what he did,” he said, adding that Warner recognizes the gravity of his actions. “He’s a 15-year-old boy and his understanding is based on what a 15-year-old would understand, but yes, he does.”
Warner told the court about how his biological father died a few days before the incident and that “he didn’t handle it well,” Coombs said.
Warner was taken from his birth parents when he was a few days old and went through “a variety of foster parents” before being adopted. Coombs said his adoptive parents were with Warner in the courtroom and both have been “very supportive.”