GREENVILLE, S.C. – On a day another deadly shooting took place at a school across the country, Jesse Osborne, the teenager responsible for a shooting at a South Carolina elementary school in 2016, was sentenced to life in prison.
Judge Lawton McIntosh handed down the sentence in Anderson after tearful, heart-wrenching statements from family members of Jacob Hall, the 6-year-old first-grader who Osborne mortally wounded on a playground at Townville Elementary School.
Osborne was 14 at the time and is 17 now.
He has 10 days to appeal his sentence.
“We’re very disappointed in the result, but the courts will undoubtedly have to continue dealing with sentencing juveniles to life without parole and will have to continue to deal with the issue of school shootings,” said Frank Eppes, Osborne’s lead attorney.
Filled with emotion of their own, Osborne’s family members portrayed the teenager as a victim of abuse at the hands of his father, Jeffrey Osborne, the 47-year-old man who Jesse Osborne shot and killed before driving 3 miles to the school in rural Upstate South Carolina on Sept. 28, 2016.
Osborne pleaded guilty in December to killing his father and Jacob, and to attempted murder related to trying to kill other students and a teacher on the playground. This week’s hearing was mandated by state law because of his age at the time of the crimes. The judge considered the circumstances of the crimes, Osborne’s maturity level, his home and family life, and whether it is believed he can be rehabilitated.
“This is the sentence that we hoped for and that these crimes called for,” said Solicitor David Wagner. “You can’t come into our community, into our schools, and do what he did. I hope this sends a message to anyone else who would think about doing something like this.”
Osborne spent 13 or 14 hours a day alone in a basement or bedroom that had little natural light and was in “total isolation” in the months before the shooting, according to his grandfather Tommy Osborne.
The teen had been expelled from middle school after bringing a hatchet and a machete in his backpack, and he was taking online classes at home. He normally would have gone to his grandparents’ house after school to do homework and have a meal, but he didn’t see them as often then, according to testimony Thursday in the Anderson County Courthouse.
His father owned a chicken farm, but he was having financial trouble and had borrowed money from his family. Jeffrey Osborne had a temper, and especially when he drank, he became dark and threatening, according to testimony from his family and a psychiatrist who saw Jesse after the shooting.
Tommy Osborne testified that Jeffrey, his son, had once threatened him when Jeffrey was under the influence of alcohol.
“After that, I made sure I had some kind of protection,” Tommy Osborne testified. “I carried a .38.”
And Jeffrey Osborne did more than threaten his family, according to testimony. His son, Jesse, told his grandparents that his dad had “hit him with a ball bat.” Ryan Brock, Jesse’s half-brother, testified earlier that Jeffrey Osborne was horribly abusive to Jesse.
“He would make him pull his pants down… get sticks, belts, whatever he could find, and just start whaling on Jesse,” Brock said. “I could hear the screams throughout the house.”
Jesse was mostly alone with no friends except a group of people he communicated with on the internet, according to testimony from his grandfather.
The portrait of Jesse Osborne that was presented Thursday was starkly different from the one prosecutors presented earlier in the week.
Prosecutors described him as the boy who planned the Townville school shooting for days and maybe weeks. The boy who videoed himself combing his hair just before the shooting and saying that he needed to “look fabulous” because of what he was about to do. The boy who hoped to kill dozens more than he did, according to messages attributed to him.
Late Thursday, prosecutors recalled psychiatrist James Ballenger to the stand. Ballenger already said he was “pessimistic” about how much good treatment would do for Jesse Osborne. He was asked again Thursday about whether Osborne can be rehabilitated.
“I certainly think he is dangerous and I think he will remain dangerous,” Ballenger said. “Anything under God’s green earth is possible, but I wouldn’t say (rehabilitation) is likely.”