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Family tragedy: Man who shot brother sobs with remorse

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 19 2012 8:06 p.m. MDT

Eric Charlton holds his head and sobs during his preliminary hearing in 4th District Court in Nephi Wednesday Sept. 19, 2012. He is charged with manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and carrying a dangerous weapon under the influence of alcohol/drugs, in the accidental shooting death of his 17-year-old brother, Cameron Bryce Charlton, on May 28, 2012.

Al Hartmann,

NEPHI — Eric Charlton's face depicted a man stricken by sorrow, a sheer mask of grief.

Nearly four months after the accidental shooting of his brother Cameron on the shores of Yuba Lake, Charlton's emotions were raw and unrelenting.

"The worst you could ever see somebody get," was how 17-year-old Jonathan Hummel described Charlton's condition that night. "Sheer terror. It's not a look you could fake. He was in pain and agony for his brother. It was horror."

Charlton, 27, sobbed openly and nearly constantly throughout a day-long preliminary hearing Wednesday. Fourth District Judge James Brady said he plans to take some time before deciding whether to order Charlton to stand trial for manslaughter and reckless endangerment.

Cameron Charlton, 17, had been Hummel's best friend since kindergarten. He said Cameron considered his older brother, Eric, to be his "best friend — hero." Hummel said he joined the brothers in a weekend outing at the lake.

Late Sunday and into the early morning hours of Monday, a group of people sat around a campfire. Charlton later told sheriff's deputies that they were talking about ghosts, poltergeists and other paranormal activity.

Most of the group got "spooked out" and turned in for the night. Charlton, his brother and Hummel were left alone around the campfire when the trio heard coyotes and Charlton went to his truck to retrieve a gun.

Hummel said Cameron asked his older brother to give him the weapon so he could show it to Hummel. Charlton unloaded the magazine, verified that the firearm was empty and fired it twice into a field before he handed it to Cameron, he said. The two looked at the weapon and gave it back to Charlton.

"He was showing us some techniques," Hummel said of Eric Charlton. "Just how to hold it, bringing the gun straight out from his body."

Hummel, 17, was asked to demonstrate with a fake gun exactly what Charlton did. His hands shook as he held it. He demonstrated how Charlton had handled the weapon and how, when he was done, he re-loaded the magazine and placed the gun back into the holster.

Charlton had been a Marine. His younger brother and Hummel both wanted to join as well. They talked about the Marines and brotherhood. They talked about girls.

"Eric said, 'You can't really trust any girls in high school, but you can trust me. He swung the gun out and it went off," Hummel said, before explaining what Charlton said again. "(Charlton said), 'You know you're my brother when you can trust me with this.'"

Hummel said he heard a bang and Charlton asked, "What the (expletive deleted) did I just do?" He began CPR and told Hummel to call 911. Hummel was too stunned to speak, so Charlton spoke to dispatchers himself. Hummel collapsed soon after.

Soon after, he saw Charlton with police.

"I told Eric I love him and I knew it was an accident," he testified.

He said he never saw Charlton point the gun at his brother or pull the trigger.

Juab County sheriff's deputy Andrew Davidson said he was in Nephi when he was called to the shooting.

"I saw a subject kneeling down in the grass," he said of his arrival at the scene. "He was covered in blood and crying at the time. ... He was very distraught over the situation. ... He stated, 'I did it. I shot my brother. It was an accident."  

He would repeat this over and over again, Davidson said. They helped Charlton into a change of clothes and took him into a patrol car, where he submitted to a recorded interview. He said he couldn't remember why he took the gun back out.

"It's all blank right there," he said. "I wouldn't intentionally shoot my brother."

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