Weber County man gets 6 months in jail for brother's accidental death
Court • But Eric Charlton gets option to avoid serving 6 months in jail.an option to avoid serving time.
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Nephi • As he rose to accept his sentence of six months in jail, Eric Charlton kissed a photograph of the younger brother he accidentally shot and killed during a May camping trip.

He would do whatever the court asked, he said. He would do it for Cameron.

"He was my best friend," Charlton, 27, told 4th District Judge James Brady through sobs. "I carry around one of the flowers I got off his coffin because it's all I have left. It's the only thing I have left of him."

After emotional appeals from Charlton and his parents, who said 17-year-old Cameron would not want to see his brother jailed, Charlton was sentenced Thursday to six months in jail, far short of the maximum possible penalty of 18 months.

Friends and family packed into the small courtroom gasped audibly as the sentence was read. Charlton hung his head, fiddled with a blue wristband that bears the words: "Always remember."

Brady ordered Charlton also to complete 24 months probation and pay $3,500 in fines. He is not to be around firearms or consume alcohol during this time.

But Charlton will return to court on Jan. 15 to appeal the sentence. If he can present a detailed plan for how he might go about deterring similar crimes in the community, Brady said he would consider suspending all jail time.

Meanwhile Charlton will remain free.

"There is room for forgiveness, there is room for mercy," said Juab County Attorney Jared Eldridge. "I think Cameron would extend his forgiveness."

But forgiveness was never the issue. Justice was.

Defense attorney Susanne Gustin said jail time was not the answer. She proposed that Charlton perform community service, talk to students and caution others about the danger of mixing alcohol with handling firearms.

"Justice in this case means mercy," Gustin said. "This has changed the course of his family forever."

Linda Osiek, the boys' mother, told Brady that for Charlton, living with his actions was more punishment than a court could ever order.

"It won't bring Cameron back no matter what is imposed," she said, her words a barely audible squeak over chest-heaving sobs. "Please let me take my son home and let us pick up the pieces and try to rebuild a family from what has been destroyed."

Prosecutors maintained that Charlton should be held accountable for his actions, regardless of his relationship to the victim.

"He had control every step of the way," Eldridge said. "It bothers me when this is referred to as an accident. It was unfortunate. It was not intentional. But this was not an accident. It was utterly reckless."

Charlton had pleaded guilty to a class A misdemeanor count of negligent homicide and a class B misdemeanor count of carrying a weapon while under the influence of alcohol.

Eldridge said Thursday he still believed a felony charge would have been more appropriate.

"He would never own a gun again," Eldridge said after the hearing. "With a misdemeanor, he can have those charges expunged, erased. Like it never happened. But it did happen."

Prosecutors had originally charged Charlton with second-degree felony manslaughter. But following a September preliminary hearing, Brady reduced the count to a class A misdemeanor, finding that prosecutors had not met the burden to prove Charlton acted recklessly.

At that hearing, 17-year-old Jonathan Hummell testified that Eric Charlton had consumed two glasses of Captain Morgan rum mixed with cola, and the younger boys were also drinking May 28 at Yuba Lake in Juab County.

The group had been telling ghost stories around the campfire and became spooked when they heard coyotes in the distance. Eric Charlton — a former Marine — grabbed his .45 caliber handgun.

Hummell testified that Charlton told his younger brother, "You know you're my brother when you can trust me with this," while swinging his arm across his body. The gun fired, and a bullet passed through Cameron's left temple.

Charlton had told law enforcement that earlier in the evening he initially removed the magazine from the gun, and even pulled the slide back to show the teens that the weapon was empty, court documents state. He showed the two teens different firearm techniques before replacing the magazine. He told police, however, that he did not remember charging the gun's chamber with a live round.

Gustin said it was possible that if the magazine was slammed into the gun with too much force, it could load a bullet into the chamber without the operator's knowledge.

Justin Bechaver, with the state's crime lab, has testified that about 30 percent of the time he forcefully loaded a magazine on Charlton's 1911 Springfield, a bullet was pushed into the chamber.

mlang@sltrib.com

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