The Edinboro shooting was one of a series of highly publicized school-related shootings in the United States in 1997 and early 1998. In quick succession, there had been shootings in Pearl, Mississippi; West Paducah, Kentucky; and Jonesboro, Arkansas, before Edinboro, Pennsylvania, was added to the list. Andrew Wurst was fully aware of these dramatic incidents and talked frequently with his friends about the Jonesboro shooting, indicating to them that he might do something like that someday. Violence experts have noted that extensive news coverage of these school shootings can provide some troubled youth with a script for how to deal with their anger, hurt, and frustration. Andrew Jerome Wurst appears to be one of those cases.
In the end, Andrew’s defense attorney, Leonard G. Ambrose, recommended that Andrew accept a plea on third degree murder rather than be tried on first degree charges and run the risk of a life sentence with no chance of parole, the maximum possible sentence. Juries are unsympathetic to insanity pleas, Ambrose explained to news reporters, and this would be especially true with public fears about school shootings. Andrew and his parents agreed with Ambrose that there was too much at stake to take the risk of going to trial. On September 9, 1999, Judge Michael M. Palmisano sentenced Andrew to serve 30 to 60 years in prison. He will not be eligible for parole until age 45.
The Gillette family is seeking another day in court. Deborah L. Gillette, John Gillette’s widow, has filed a civil law suit against the Wursts, which is still working its way through the legal system. Some town residents expressed the wish that the Gillettes could forgive the Wurst family and doubted that any good would come of the lawsuit. One said it was understandable why Mrs. Gillette would want to take this step, especially in light of the plea bargain that prevented Andrew from receiving a life sentence without parole. In their view, no one is in a position to second-guess Mrs. Gillette or any member of the Gillette family; others cannot know the depths of their despair, nor can they say how they themselves would react if a loved one were taken from them this way.
In our view, there is little doubt that Andrew Wurst was mentally ill. Whether he was legally insane and therefore incapable of forming criminal intent is a harder issue to resolve, which is reflected in the contradictory psychiatric testimony heard in this case. Should Andrew’s parents have known something was wrong? So far as they knew, their son had no history of violence or bullying, and he never seemed angry. His grades were poor, but he was not a disciplinary problem at school. His parents had caught him drinking, but they had no idea he was smoking marijuana. Andrew also did not reveal to his parents any disturbing thoughts