A former high school honors student and Eagle Scout was sentenced today to spend at least the next 32 years in prison for what authorities call a cold-blooded thrill killing. But shortly before he was sentenced, the 19-year-old said he "can't feel guilty" for killing a man in disgust after a homosexual encounter.
"There's no reason I should be held accountable for this. That's just the way I feel. I can't change that," Gary Hirte told ABC News' Cynthia McFadden in his first interview about the August 2003 slaying of Glenn Kopitske.
Hirte's arrest and subsequent murder trial made national headlines because he seemed like such an unlikely suspect. Just 17 years old at the time of the killing, Hirte was a straight-A student and a track, football and wrestling star at his high school in the small town of Weyauwaga, Wis. The victim was a 37-year-old substitute teacher who was found shot and stabbed to death in his own home.
Hirte eventually admitted he killed Kopitske, but asserted that he was out of his mind at the time -- driven into a murderous rage after having a homosexual encounter with the older man.
Prosecutors say Hirte committed murder just to see if he could get away with it.
"I really believe in my heart that Gary Hirte had seemingly accomplished everything and he thought he would do the most outrageous [thing], the event that would really make people go 'Wow, I don't believe it,'" said Winnebago County District Attorney Bill Lennon.
Hirte pleaded guilty in October to first-degree intentional homicide, but then claimed insanity, so the case went to a jury trial early this year. Hirte said a homosexual encounter with Kopitske sent him into a murderous rage that left him incapable of knowing right from wrong, but a jury rejected that defense.
He was sentenced today to a mandatory life prison term, but the judge said he could be eligible for parole after 32 years. With time served, Hirte will be at least 50 before can leave prison.
Hirte told McFadden he couldn't feel any remorse over the crime because the person who killed Kopitske was "another me."
"It wasn't this mind that's thinking right now that did that action. So I can't feel guilty for it," he said.
Hirte did not testify in his trial. His interview with McFadden was the only time he has publicly described what he claims happened the night Kopitske was killed.
He says in the hours before the slaying, he was sitting on top of his car under a bridge getting drunk, listening over and over to a song by Nirvana.
"I think I've consumed what, six bottles of malt liquor. And like, 15 shots of vodka maybe," he said.
Hirte said when he drank he sometimes had homosexual urges. He said Kopitske pulled up in his car that night and flirted with him, and they agreed to go back to the older man's house.
"We both knew when he offered to go to his house that's what we were gonna do. Something … homosexual," Hirte said.
Hirte said he had never been with a man before and that their encounter was consensual. But Hirte also says after the alleged sexual encounter, he went back to his car, fell asleep for a while and woke up sober and in a rage about having had sex with another man.
'Grossed Out Beyond Belief'
He described feeling "just grossed out beyond belief, disappointed … [at] the proof of my imperfection to myself that I had done these things."
Hirte said he believed a homosexual act was not as bad as "raping somebody or torturing somebody" but was worse than murder.
"In my own mind that's the way I think, that's what I think is worse to my own psyche and personality," he said.
He said he went back to Kopitske's house later that night.
"I saw myself just command him to lay down on the floor, and from there, I saw myself shoot him, I saw myself stab him twice," he said.
"The second stab actually got stuck in his spine. And just in this state of rage, I picked his whole body up with my one arm to get the knife out," he said.
Hirte told McFadden he doesn't consider himself mentally ill now, but he says he was when he committed the crime.
Doing Animals a 'Favor' by Killing Them
Lennon, the prosecutor, says he is convinced Kopitske wasn't gay and believes Hirte made up the sexual encounter story.
"I resent Gary Hirte using this gay panic as a defense," Lennon said. "If in fact the homosexual episode took place, and I doubt that it did, I resent the whole notion, their whole defense, that this somehow justifies murder."
But Hirte's lawyer, Gerald Boyle, said for months his client had no explanation for the killing and that it wasn't until a forensic report showed there might have been a sexual element to the crime that Hirte finally broke down. "We polygraphed him and he passed," Boyle said.
Boyle called Hirte's account "the only thing I know of that fits."
However, some of Hirte's friends told ABC News the teen liked to kill animals with his car and bragged about it.
"I don't have any guilt for killing little animals because I figure I am doing them a favor," Hirte told McFadden. "It's just the way it's justified in my mind."
Parents Stand by Their Son
Hirte's parents, Deanna and Mike, believe him. They say it was difficult for their son to admit to having homosexual sex.
"I think Gary was willing to accept life in jail to keep that secret to himself," Mike Hirte said. "In some ways I'd probably put in that situation I think I would have probably been very tough to come forward."
And while Hirte hasn't brought himself to feel sorrow for Kopitske, his parents say he has apologized to them.
"He said, 'I'm sorry, Mom and Dad, sorry you have to go through all this,'" Deanna Hirte said.
Mike Hirte said his son told him: "'You did everything you could for me, there is nothing that you could have done any different.'"