A Fayette Circuit Court jury on Tuesday found Brian Allen McGuire guilty of first-degree manslaughter in the death of Jose Daniel "Danny" Donato, a fellow custodian helper at Lexington's Leestown Middle School.
McGuire also was found guilty of unlawful possession of a weapon on school property.
The jury recommended the maximum sentence — 20 years in prison for manslaughter and five years for the weapon possession. Jurors recommended the sentences be served concurrently. McGuire would have to serve 85 percent of his sentence before being eligible for parole. Formal sentencing was scheduled for 1 p.m. Dec. 10 before Judge Kimberly Bunnell.
Jurors deliberated about 41/2 hours before the verdicts.
"We believe that the jury reached a fair verdict of manslaughter in this case," defense attorney Tom Griffiths said. "We wish that they had reached a lower penalty verdict for Brian and Brian's family."
If McGuire had been found guilty of murder, he could have faced life in prison.
Donato, 38, was shot to death June 9, 2009.
Defense attorneys had maintained that McGuire, 28, had been repeatedly bullied by Donato and that Donato had pulled a knife on McGuire on several occasions.
Prosecutors said McGuire had never told school officials Donato had threatened him with a knife until after the last such alleged incident on June 5, 2009. Then, they said, McGuire waited three days — until the day before the shooting — to tell school officials. After McGuire told school officials about the alleged June 5 incident, he did not give them a chance to do something about the situation, taking matters into his own hands instead, prosecutors said.
During the sentencing phase of the trial, Donato's best friend, Eddie Baker, testified that he first met Donato when Donato's family moved to Lexington from Puerto Rico when Donato was 15 and Baker was 13.
Their families lived next door to each other. Even though the boys didn't speak the same language, they began hanging out together.
"Over time, I began to teach him English, and he began to teach me Spanish," Baker said.
Each was best man at the other's wedding, and Donato was Baker's son's godfather.
Baker said he remembered thinking how proud he was of Donato the last time he saw him.
"He had finally come into his own," Baker said. "He had lost a lot of weight ... He felt like he had a lot of love in his job and in his church life and in his home life."
McGuire's sister, Michelle Smith, testified on his behalf before the jury began deliberating on a sentence, telling them that her brother was "always a shy and reserved kid" who had a speech disorder and learning disabilities as a child and who was frequently picked on in school.
"He's never been the type of kid to stand up and defend himself," she said.
She said McGuire was a "great dad" to his young son.
"That little boy is his life," she said, fighting back tears. "Joey's his whole world."
Smith pleaded with the jury for a lenient sentence.
"I know that he must've been under so much to act the way that he did," she said.
Griffiths, in his closing argument, painted McGuire as a weak individual and a poor communicator. McGuire, he said, avoids talking and answering questions and is a man who wishes problems would go away. Recounting testimony, Griffiths said McGuire once ran away from a traffic accident and later was found curled up in a fetal position.
Griffiths said Donato, a popular figure at the middle school, had a dark side.
McGuire, Griffiths said, was afraid to tell authorities about Donato's repeated threats because he thought if Donato were fired from his job, something worse might happen to him. Meanwhile, McGuire's feelings of fear and despair were mounting, according to the defense attorney. When McGuire told school authorities about the last incident involving a knife, the response he got was "not my job" or "not my fault" or "don't blame me," Griffiths said.
Prosecutor Lou Anna Red Corn said McGuire "was very capable of saying what he felt and thought." She mentioned a lengthy e-mail McGuire had sent to a school board member detailing his dissatisfaction with the school system.
McGuire, she said, had the opportunity to do and say something about the alleged June 5 knife incident on that day, but he didn't. When he talked to school officials and others three days later, they all tried to help him, she said.
"Where is his responsibility in this?" Red Corn repeatedly said to the jury.
She said McGuire shot Donato because he was mad at him.
The Smith & Wesson semi-automatic handgun McGuire used to shoot his co-worker had a 10-pound trigger pull — not an easy gun to fire, the assistant Fayette Commonwealth's attorney said. McGuire shot at Donato 15 times, hitting him in various parts of his body 12 of those times, she said.
Griffiths said that McGuire wasn't out to get Donato; McGuire just wanted the bullying to stop.
"I wonder if Brian's eyes were open during that (the shooting) or if they were squeezed shut in fear," he said.
McGuire did not have a criminal record before the shooting, and he had a legal permit to carry the gun used to shoot Donato, witnesses testified during the trial.
At Leestown, Red Corn said, "Danny was liked, and he was loved." As for McGuire, she said, "For the most part, Brian McGuire was liked, too."
For both men, working in the Fayette County school system was a family tradition of sorts. Donato's mother, Carmen Donato, is a retired Leestown Middle School Spanish teacher. McGuire's mother, Barbara McGuire, is a teacher's aide at Clays Mill Elementary School; his father, William McGuire, is a retired local school system custodian who now works part-time as a custodian at Harrison Elementary School; and his fiancée, Janet Sams, is a cook at Edythe J. Hayes Middle School.