By Amanda Riddle
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A 14-year-old boy who could get up to life in prison for shooting his teacher to death told a judge today: “Words cannot really express how sorry I am, but they’re all I have.”
Nathaniel Brazill took the stand during a sentencing hearing at which the teacher’s mother and brother testified the boy would be a danger to society if he ever got out of prison.
Brazill insisted, as he did during his trial, that he didn’t mean to hurt his teacher, Barry Grunow.
“As I look back on that day I wish it had not happened and that I could bring Mr. Grunow back,” he said, reading from a statement. “I would like to say to every one that I am very, very sorry. And to Mr. Grunow’s family, I am sorry.”
“If I had thought about what I was doing none of this would have happened. … Regardless of what anyone thinks, I never intended to harm Mr. Grunow,” he said.
The teen called Grunow a “great man and a great teacher. … I’ve been thinking about Mrs. Grunow and how lonely she is.”
Circuit Judge Richard Wennet said he will decide on Friday whether the teen-ager can be rehabilitated. Brazill faces 25 years to life in prison.
Brazill was tried as an adult and convicted in May of second-degree murder in the killing of Grunow, 35, at Lake Worth Middle School on the last day of the 2000 school year.
Brazill had returned to school after being suspended by a counselor earlier that day for throwing water balloons. He shot Grunow after the teacher refused to let the seventh-grader talk to two girls in his class.
At his trial, Brazill had insisted that he only meant to scare the teacher and that the gun went off accidentally.
Today, Brazill’s mother, Polly Powell, sobbed as she asked the Grunow family for forgiveness and begged the judge for leniency.
“Nathaniel is my first-born and I love him like nobody else can. I just ask you that you please have mercy on him,” Powell said. “We know he’s done something wrong. I’ve said that from the beginning and we know he must be punished.”
Two relatives of the teacher urged the judge to send Brazill to prison for life.
“This was not an accident. I think Nathaniel should be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” said Phyllis Grunow, the victim’s mother. “I don’t think any family should have to go through this.”
The defense is seeking the minimum 25-year term.
The first witness for the defense said Brazill was a “pot boiling over” following his suspension and after years of silence about physical abuse of his mother by boyfriends.
On the afternoon of the shooting, Brazill was preoccupied with seeing his first girlfriend after his suspension, said Jacqueline Patterson, deputy superintendent of Milwaukee schools.
“All this other stuff was exploding inside of him,” she said.
Asked why Grunow was targeted, Cornell University child psychologist James Gabarino testified that Brazill was in such a frenzy over his love life and the suspension that who the victim was “may not have mattered.”
Grunow’s widow, Pam, told the judge that she didn’t have a recommendation to the court.
“I do not know what price Nathaniel should pay for taking Barry’s life,” she said, reading from a statement. “I cannot make a recommendation because that is not my job. I do not have the wisdom.”
She described her husband as loving and a wonderful father with many friends and students who cared greatly for him.
“At home he enjoyed working in his garden and being Daddy,” she said. “He was devoted to us. We were his priority.”
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