Man cleared of felony charge in accidental shooting death of brother

Posted at 7:10 PM, Sep 21, 2012
and last updated 2012-09-22 01:19:00-04

NEPHI, Utah -- A Juab County judge ruled there is not enough evidence to prove a Weber County man was reckless in the shooting death of his younger brother.

Eric Charlton, 27, was initially charged with second-degree felony manslaughter. But the judge says his actions at the time do not support the charge.

“I’m so relieved,” said Susanne Gustin, Charlton’s defense attorney. “This is lifting a huge burden off the Charlton family.”

Eric was showing his brother Cameron handgun techniques when the fun fired, hitting Cameron in the head.  Witnesses say Eric had cleared the gun, making sure the chamber was empty. But when he replaced the magazine, a bullet found it’s way into the chamber.

Wednesday, during a preliminary hearing, Eric’s lawyers argued his actions didn’t meet the legal definition of the word reckless.

“In a general sense we could argue he was reckless,” said Gustin. “But that’s not how the law reads. The law reads he had to actually perceive the risk and consciously disregard it.”

At the hearing, defense attorneys argued since Eric didn’t know the gun was loaded, he didn’t know the risk. The judge agreed.

“It’s tempting to conclude anyone who handles a firearm in any manner other then to treat it as loaded is reckless… However, the definition of ‘reckless; that (I am) bout to follow… is narrower," said Judge James Brady.

Gustin says Eric’s family stands by him that the shooting was an accident, and the fact that the felony charge was dismissed is a load off their minds.

“That’s not going to weigh him down or his family down,” said Gustin. “He’s going to be able to move forward and grieve the death of Cameron.”

The dismissal of the felony charge means Eric will potentially avoid prison time. He still faces two other Misdemeanor charges of Reckless Endangerment and Carrying a Dangerous Weapon under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs.

The judge did state the evidence shows negligence and gave the county attorney time to amend the charges. Juab County Attorney Jared Eldridge was unavailable for comment Friday.

Related stories: