A Wisconsin Eagle Scout and straight-A high school student convicted of murdering a substitute teacher will spend at least 32 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole, a judge decided Thursday. Gary M. Hirte, who used a "gay panic" defense during his trial, was sentenced to a mandatory life prison term. Winnebago County district attorney William Lennon had asked for a life sentence without the possibility of parole. "I argue that Gary Hirte, if given the chance, will murder again," Lennon said Thursday. "The next time he might not get caught. He is nothing short of evil."
Judge Robert Hawley did not explain why he decided to give Hirte the chance for parole after 32 years, except to say that he did not find it a "horrendous kind of case." "You have accomplished some good things, and it seems like you have a good heart at times," the judge told Hirte, who was a track, football, and wrestling star at Weyewauga-Fremont High School and had a scholarship to St. Cloud University. "But it kind of ends there." Hirte, wearing a black-and-white jail suit with his wrists and ankles in handcuffs and shackles, showed no emotion and said nothing in court.
Now 19, Hirte admitted killing Glenn M. Kopitske in August 2003 but pleaded insanity. He claimed a drunken gay sex encounter with Kopitske sent him into a murderous rage, making him incapable of knowing right from wrong. Hirte repeated his story in an interview broadcast Thursday night on the ABC television news program Primetime Live, saying the encounter drove him to kill out of revulsion for what happened and that he was mentally ill at the time but doesn't consider himself mentally ill now. "I don't deserve to be in prison at all," he said. "I didn't do anything wrong, and I shouldn't be in prison."
The jury in Hirte's sanity trial already rejected that argument after just two hours of deliberation. Hirte never took the witness stand in his own defense. Prosecutors portrayed Kopitske's killing in chilling terms: Hirte, who was 17 and a high school senior at the time, did it just to see how it would feel and
if he could get away with it, then bragged about it to his friends at school. Kopitske, a 37-year-old substitute teacher, was found on the bedroom floor of his rural Weyauwega home, shot in the back of the head with a shotgun and stabbed twice in the back and once in the chest. His mother, Shirley Kopitske, said Thursday she accepted the judge's decision. "We are satisfied he will be supervised all of his life," she said. "We are just glad it's over."
Hawley said he believed Hirte killed so he could feel powerful. "Deep down inside, I think you have an inferiority complex," he told Hirte during the hearing. "Right now you certainly don't have any remorse for Glenn Kopitske, and I don't know if you ever will."
Hirte's attorney, Gerald Boyle, said his client was happy with the sentence because he did not expect the judge to give him the possibility of parole. Hirte's mother, Deana Hirte, said Glenn Kopitske manipulated her son and that the case really had two victims. "No one is perfect, and good people sometimes do bad things," she said.