Man charged with stabbing school children pleads no contest

Posted: Tuesday, October 09, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Twelve-year-old Frank De La Cruz and his 10-year-old brother Sam came face-to-face Monday with the man charged with attempting to murder five of their friends.

The boys were not comforted by the fact that Jason Pritchard remained handcuffed during the Superior Court proceeding in which he pleaded no contest to two charges of attempted murder.

Judge Dan Hensley explained to Pritchard that by pleading no contest he could be sentenced to a maximum 198 years in prison. The minimum sentence is five years.

''I was scared a little bit,'' the older boy said of seeing the man who attacked his friends with a filet knife May 7 at the Mountain View Elementary School in Anchorage.

''I'm just happy to get out of the courtroom and away from the school where it happened,'' Sam said.

Both boys were waiting with the other children in line for the school's breakfast program to begin when police say Pritchard attacked the first child.

The boys were in court with their mother to view the proceeding. They are being asked to write letters to the court for sentencing purposes.

''I was frustrated, very upset ... over what he did to these kids,'' said Maria De La Cruz, the children's mother.

Pritchard, 34, slashed four children on their necks and grabbed a fifth child who struggled free, prosecutors said. One of the children was stabbed outside the school while three were attacked inside a classroom.

Pritchard was arrested after police shot him with three bean bag-type projectiles. He was hit in the leg and arm and dropped the knife when a third projectile struck his hand.

Four children were hospitalized. One child required 34 stitches.

Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Bachman said Pritchard's plea satisfies two things the families of the victims requested; a sentence that could keep him in prison for life and avoidance of a trial.

Pritchard had been charged with five counts of attempted murder and three counts of assault. He pleaded no contest to consolidated charges.

Bachman also requested of Hensley that Pritchard be found guilty but mentally ill. That ruling would require that Pritchard, who has a lengthy history of mental illness and is diagnosed with schizophrenia, get treatment. Unless he is cured, he could not be released on furlough or parole. The Department of Correction would be responsible for determining if he should be freed.

Pritchard has been arrested 13 times since 1994 on charges that include assault, stalking and criminal trespass.

The judge set sentencing for March 20. A sentence was not part of the plea agreement.

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