Trial: Was shooting accidental or intentional?
Thomas O’Connor’s gun had a broken cylinder stopper that may have caused the gun to skip a chamber.
That fact and others were not disputed during closing arguments on Wednesday, the third day of a speedy murder trial.
Thomas O’Connor shot and killed 16-year-old Bradley Parent with a gun that had been issued by his employer, High Sierra Patrol.
The question left with the jury as it began deliberations Wednesday afternoon was whether O’Connor acted with a conscious disregard of danger to human life, which is one definition of second-degree murder.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Atwell argued in El Dorado County Superior Court that O’Connor’s act constitutes second-degree murder because he pointed a loaded gun at Parent and squeezed the trigger five times. The fifth pull launched a bullet into Parent’s heart.
Lori London, O’Connor’s court-appointed attorney, argued that her client made a stupid mistake, but did not commit a crime. She said testimony in the trial clearly indicated that her client loaded the bullet into the last, or top chamber and then counted his pulls to protect Parent’s life. The only reason Parent is dead is because the gun malfunctioned, she said.
During the trial, two witnesses, one for the prosecution, the other for the defense, testified that the cylinder stopper on O’Connor’s gun was faulty.
“Both gun experts told you that if it was a properly functioning firearm there should have been no danger,” London said. “It should have gone off on the sixth pull, not the fifth. And that’s not what Tom O’Connor should have known. It was not a conscious disregard for human life. It was a mistake. It was an accident.”
Atwell rebutted that argument telling the jury that there is no such thing as a safe gun and that what happened was not an accident.
“Thomas O’Connor knew something could go wrong,” he said. “It was foreseeable. If it was foreseeable, it was no accident.”
If found guilty of second-degree murder, O’Connor, 24, could be sentenced to a maximum of 40 years to life in prison. If he’s found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, which also is an option for the jury, and means O’Connor was negligent, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 14 years in prison.
Parent, a resident of South Lake Tahoe since the age of 6, had been friends with O’Connor for about four months before the shooting. In the week that preceded his death, he had slept at O’Connor’s D Street apartment for about three days.
O’Connor was a security guard. On Feb. 9, 2000, he and Parent played host to three teen-age girls. Around 2 p.m., the group all began toying with the equipment issued by High Sierra Patrol, which included handcuffs and a baton.
Eventually, Parent took O’Connor’s .38 caliber revolver out of its holster. He made sure to unload it, placing the live rounds on top of a large television. Parent and O’Connor then began playing a quick draw game with the gun. One person would wear the holster and the other would rush to grab it before the person wearing it did.
Then, according to trial testimony, O’Connor decided he wanted to show everyone he could load the gun with a bullet and squeeze the trigger five times without having it fire. Parent relaxed on a couch while O’Connor stood 2 feet away and pointed the gun at him.
As the number of pulls increased, girls in the apartment told O’Connor to stop because it was dangerous. The gun went off, Parent put his hands up to his chest, the color drained from his face and his head slumped back on the couch.
O’Connor threw the gun and said “Where the hell are my keys?” Parent was dead before they got to Barton Memorial Hospital.
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