Judge accepts Magruder HS shooter plea deal

A Montgomery County judge accepted a plea deal Monday from Steven Alston Jr., the teenager accused of shooting another student inside a Magruder high school bathroom last January.

Alston, who was 17 years old at the time of the shooting, pleaded guilty to an attempted first-degree murder charge, which is a life sentence in Maryland. 

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge David A. Boynton accepted Alston Jr.’s guilty plea and part of the agreement included capping the sentencing at 15-25 years. 

The Montgomery County States Attorney’s Office is also recommending Alston Jr. be placed in the Patuxent Youth Offender Program.

"He’s going to jail. He’s going to jail for a long time but he’ll receive the kind of treatment that hopefully at some point in time when he does return to the community, he’ll be a better person," said States Attorney John McCarthy when asked about the plea deal.

"Steven has accepted his responsibility from the very beginning. The hardest part about the case, I think, and the part that hasn’t been focused on, is the lack of resources for students who are the subject of bullying. There’s very little question that Steven was the victim of some assaults. I’m not saying that justifies his behavior, but that certainly does put it in a little bit of context," said Alston’s attorney David Felsen, who also noted his client’s "intellectual deficits." 

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It was said in a previous hearing that Alston has an IEP at school.

McCarthy acknowledged problems between boys and said that was considered in the plea deal.  

On Monday, officials on the case said both boys entered into a Magruder High School bathroom expecting to fight back on January 21st.  

Police said then 17-year-old Alston Jr. purchased parts online to build the 9mm ghost gun used in the shooting. FOX 5 also learned in court that Alston was seen on camera skipping class after the shooting.

The state's attorney noted about 8 to 10 additional students also inside the bathroom at the time of the shooting. None of the other students reported the shooting to authorities or police. They instead tweeted about it.

"Some of the individuals were tweeting out that Steven shot Dre. There were only three Stevens in the school. An investigation took place to try and identify which of the Stevens was involved in a shooting. It was very quickly identified that we were looking for a Steven Alston," said McCarthy, who thanked MCPS staff and police for their work that day.

McCarthy said an email was then sent to all teachers asking if they had Steven Alston in their classroom. "That teacher then knew she had the potential shooter in her classroom. SWAT team staged, they went in there and without further incident, they took Mr. Alston into custody," the state's attorney told reporters.

McCarthy said security who had seen the scramble of boys run out of the bathroom, went inside to find a critically injured Thomas shot on the floor. Thomas had been shot in the pelvis area.

McCarthy said Thomas has been through about 13 surgeries now. 

"I will tell you several nights in a row, we did not think he was going to live to the next day. But through his strength and wonderful doctors who assisted him, he survived," he said.

According to the plea deal, Alston can’t be sentenced more than 25 years. However, the judge can sentence him to a lower amount than the cap.

McCarthy declined to answer how many years his office will be asking for. 

"I’m confident that the defense will put forth what they think he should consider," McCarthy said." I am confident Judge Boynton will fashion an appropriate sentence."

FOX 5 was told Thomas’ family will be at the sentencing but did not appear at the plea hearing — not wanting to relive the case’s trauma.

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Alston’s family was there to support the suspect.

Some Magruder parents tell FOX 5 they had no idea about the plea hearing. Those parents say they are frankly more concerned and frustrated with Montgomery County Public Schools, claiming the school system still hasn’t met to take their many questions on the after-action report and communication issues from that day.

Alston was found some two hours after the shooting, inside a classroom with other students as the school sat in lockdown. Parents said they were given little communication and were left frantically waiting to learn more information and find out when they could pick up their children.

"For me, for there to be trust, there needs to be open and honest communication that’s open and two-ways, that’s not just us asking questions and being told to be patient," said Magruder parent Kim Glassman, who has testified about multiple board of education meetings requesting MCPS meet with Magruder families once more.

"MCPS has recently had several individual meetings with family and school community members. As a result of these most recent engagements, we are planning a meeting with families within the Magruder community. During this meeting, we look forward to sharing additional updates that we have made as a result of key learnings from the community, staff and students," part of an email from MCPS Spokesperson Jessica Baxter reads. 

Baxter told FOX 5 MCPS is still working on a date.

The Magruder High School principal will have counselors available this week for students who may need them due to news of the plea deal.

FOX 5 also asked MCPS whether any students faced consequences for not reporting the shooting. We are still waiting for an answer.

Alston Jr. has a sentencing hearing scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 22.