CANTON — Former Etowah High School students Alfred Dupree and Victoria McCurley were sentenced to 20 years in prison in Cherokee County Superior Court on Tuesday.
The then-seniors at Etowah were arrested in October 2017 when Woodstock police were tipped off to plans to kill students and teachers at the school. Investigators searched the homes of the two suspects and found journals that included a “kill list,” a recipe for napalm and maps of parts of the school’s campus. An “incendiary device” was found at one of the students’ homes. They were arrested before any attack took place.
They pleaded guilty Friday to all charges, which were six counts of conspiracy to commit murder, one count of conspiracy to commit arson and one count of unlawful possession of a destructive device. Then, both the prosecution and defense presented evidence for Judge Ellen McElyea to consider in passing sentence.
On Tuesday afternoon, the judge gave both teens two 10- year sentences to be served back to back for a total of 20 years in prison. She also imposed two other 10-year sentences served at the same time as the first two, which has the practical effect of no additional prison time.
In addition to the prison time, both Dupree, 19, and McCurley, 18, were banned from visiting Cherokee County after their release, having contact with each other, or the people on the “kill list” or their families.
In closing statements, Assistant District Attorney Rachelle Carnesale had asked for the sentence that McElyea ultimately imposed. Defense attorneys had asked for 15 years, with three served in prison and credit for time already served in the Cherokee County jail. Both defendants have been jailed since their arrest, a total of 19 months.
Plans that Dupree and McCurley outlined in their journals included using smoke bombs to “corral” people into crowded areas and using napalm and firearms to kill as many people as possible, Carnesale said.
McCurley admitted in court Friday afternoon to telling investigators, “We’d like to get our numbers up higher than Las Vegas,” referring to the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting in which 58 people were killed and 422 were wounded.
Over parts of three days of testimony during the sentencing hearing, attorneys and witnesses painted a portrait of Dupree and McCurley as two unhappy, suicidal teenagers with mental health issues who plotted an attack they were unlikely to carry out.
Dupree’s lawyer, Paul Ghanouni, in his closing statement pointed out that the pair had not amassed an arsenal of weapons to make good on the large- scale assault they fantasized about. He also said they did not have the means to carry out their plans. “When he was arrested Alfred had less than $100 to his name and lived paycheck to paycheck,” Ghanouni said in his closing statement on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, McCurley’s stepfather Jonathan Smith testified she had no money of her own and that whenever she needed something, he gave her money for it.
Carnesale said the Etowah mass murder plot was an attack that if carried out “would reverberate for generations” in Cherokee County. That the attack did not happen wasn’t because Dupree and McCurley “abandoned their plans,” but because a relative of one of the defendants reported it and investigators took the report seriously, Carnesale said.
“The words ‘if you see something, say something,’ worked in this case,” Carnesale said. She said the best way to ensure the community’s safety was to send Dupree and McCurley to prison for a substantial period.
Before handing down the sentences, McElyea said she had listened to hours of McCurley’s conversations with investigators. She said McCurley’s words indicated the friends were “likely to carry the conspiracy to its end.”
Both of the defendants apologized in court for their actions, including naming all of the people listed on their “kill list.”
Before McElyea took a brief recess Tuesday afternoon to consider the sentences, relatives of those on the kill list, as well as the teacher on it, read statements to the court.
The defendants’ former teacher said she had enjoyed having Dupree and McCurley in her class.
“We all thought we had a good relationship with Gabby (McCurley) and Alfred,” the teacher said. But, the people on the list now “all fear that we would be their future targets.”
A relative of one of the targeted students said that she and other family members of those on the list have all the normal concerns about their loved ones, but now “the worry is multiplied beyond measure.”
“They get to dream of the day they will be released,” the woman said of Dupree and McCurley. “We have to live with the dread of the day they are released.”