ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The teen charged with shooting and killing 13-year-old classmate Bennie Hargrove on an Albuquerque middle school campus, Juan Saucedo Jr. has taken a no-contest plea in the case. Now just over 14 years old, Saucedo Jr. will remain in custody up to the age of 21 under the terms of the plea.

A judge accepted Saucedo Jr.’s change of plea during a sudden hearing on Thursday, Mar 2. The teen pleaded to a single count of second-degree murder while agreeing to the maximum sentence allowed for an offender his age, according to prosecutors.

The shooting happened on August 13, 2021, the second day of the start of the 2021-2022 school year. Investigators say that Saucedo Jr., then 13 years old, shot and killed Hargrove outside of Washington Middle School during their lunch hour. Hargrove died shortly after being shot.

After the killing, APD Chief Harold Medina tweeted that Hargrove was shot after he “stood up for a friend and tried to de-escalate a violent confrontation between classmates.” During Thursday’s hearing, prosecutors did not offer additional details about why Saucedo Jr. killed Hargrove.

During the hearing, prosecutors spoke of the plea deal being the “best outcome” for all parties because it avoids a jury trial and “a lot of trauma to everybody involved.” Saucedo Jr.’s plea agreement also guarantees the maximum sentence that could have come from a guilty verdict in a potential trial. Friends and family of Hargrove spoke of his life and how he often protected other kids.

“My grandson Bennie was smart, playful, and a very protective child,” said Vanessa Sawyer, Bennie Hargrove’s grandmother. “He was a victim of bullying in the past and learned he needed to help those who were bullied – protect others. Sadly, he died protecting other kids from a bully.”

Friends and family also expressed anger with the sentence, acknowledging that Saucedo will eventually be released from custody after his sentence. Saucedo will spend roughly six and a half more years in juvenile custody.

“As the mother of a child who’s a victim of a heinous, premeditated murder, I feel that it is not fair that he gets opportunity to live life again and my Bennie will never have that chance,” said Collette Wise, Hargrove’s mother. Wise said she’d like to see Saucedo in prison for the rest of his life, but acknowledged that state law won’t permit a life sentence because of Saucedo’s age. “Because he is a child, I’m asking the court to understand my family’s pain and our loss.”

“In that time, I truly hope Juan chooses to rehabilitate his life for the day when he gets that second chance at life that my son will never get again,” Wise said. Judge Catherine Begaye admonished Saucedo Jr. for the murder and its impact on hundreds of others.

“When you killed Bennie, [you] didn’t just affect his family,” Judge Begaye said. “You frightened the other middle school children who were attending that same school. You scared their parents. You caused panic among the teachers and administration.”

The judge also called the event “100% completely avoidable.” Judge Begaye said, “you have seared into their memory the shock of this event and the sorrow and the pain that results from one child killing another.”

Sitting next to his parents, Saucedo Jr. acknowledged questions from the judge Thursday but declined to speak on his own behalf. Saucedo’s attorney, Dennica Torres, said to the court that he has “expressed remorse” and that she believes he is amenable to treatment.

“He has taken full advantage of every opportunity,” Torres said of Saucedo Jr., saying he’s excelled in school. “His family has been very supportive, they’ve been very respectful of everyone involved and they too have expressed remorse for the situation.”

Hargrove’s death has pushed state lawmakers to effort legislation surrounding unsecured firearms. Over the last two legislative sessions, lawmakers have attempted to pass a bill named after Bennie Hargrove, which would penalize gun owners for having unsecured firearms used in crimes.

After passing few committees, the bill never made it to a full vote of the House or Senate in the 2022 session. The legislation has been brought back up for debate in the 2023 session.

In 2021, the office of previous Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez said it would consider criminal charges against Saucedo Jr.’s parents. Investigators say Saucedo Jr. took the gun from his home, which was then used to kill Hargrove. In 2018, Saucedo Sr. was involved in a shooting at the after-school pick-up line near Highland High School. In another case, a lawsuit alleged Saucedo’s parents got into a fight with another parent at Zuni Elementary in 2015.