Man pleads guilty in girl’s death

Gun ac­ci­den­tally went off, killing friend’s daugh­ter, 7, he says

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - GINNY MONK

A Beebe man ac­cused of man­slaugh­ter in the ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ing of a 7-year-old girl pleaded guilty Thurs­day in White County Cir­cuit Court.

Jeremiah Chad Owens, 26, was vis­it­ing a high school friend, Matthew We­zow­icz, on Feb. 27. Owens was ex­am­in­ing a new hand­gun We­zow­icz had bought ear­lier in the day when the gun went off.

The bul­let hit We­zow­icz’s daugh­ter Karma near her right eye.

Owens said the gun was lay­ing in his lap, a state­ment that was cor­rob­o­rated by a bul­let hole in the arm of the love seat he was sit­ting on. He told po­lice he did not know the gun was loaded, ac­cord­ing to the case af­fi­davit.

Po­lice re­sponded about 8 p.m. and found We­zow­icz stand­ing in the drive­way, hold­ing his daugh­ter. Karma was trans­ported by air am­bu­lance to Arkansas Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal in Lit­tle Rock where she died March 4 af­ter be­ing taken off a ven­ti­la­tor.

Owens told po­lice that he had two beers and had taken a cou­ple of Val­ium pills be­fore go­ing to We­zow­icz’s home, ac­cord­ing to court records.

Po­lice in­ter­viewed We­zow­icz in the hos­pi­tal, ac­cord­ing to the case file.

“He was look­ing at his daugh­ter, who was sit­ting on a couch be­side the love seat, and he hears a gun­shot and he sees his daugh­ter fall for­ward,” ac­cord­ing to the af­fi­davit.

Owens was orig­i­nally charged with first-de­gree bat­tery with bail set at $50,000, a charge that was up­graded to man­slaugh­ter, a Class C felony, af­ter Karma died.

Owens’ jury trial on the charge had been sched­uled to be­gin Mon­day be­fore Cir­cuit Judge Robert Ed­wards.

We­zow­icz said Fri­day that he found out from a voice mail left by the pros­e­cut­ing at­tor­ney, Re­becca McCoy of Searcy, that a plea hear­ing was sched­uled Thurs­day. He said he is glad to avoid go­ing through the trial.

Owens’ sen­tenc­ing hear­ing will be Aug. 2, when We­zow­icz will give an im­pact state­ment about the loss of his daugh­ter.

“Hope­fully it’s an im­pact that gets him the full sen­tence,” We­zow­icz said in an in­ter­view Fri­day.

Owens faces three to 10 years of im­pris­on­ment and a pos­si­ble fine of up to $10,000.

Hu­bert Alexan­der, the de­fense at­tor­ney for Owens, de­clined to com­ment.

Brenda We­zow­icz, Karma’s grand­mother who was also in the house at the time of the shoot­ing, Matthew We­zow­icz and an­other fam­ily mem­ber at­tended the plea hear­ing Thurs­day. Brenda We­zow­icz said she also plans to be there for the sen­tenc­ing hear­ing.

She said she is an­gry that Owens will not be in jail in the weeks pre­ced­ing his hear­ing. He is free on bond un­til the sen­tenc­ing.

“He walked free dur­ing my grand­daugh­ter’s fu­neral, and he walked free out of those door yes­ter­day,” Brenda We­zow­icz said.

“It just makes me feel like her life is noth­ing to the state of Arkansas.”

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