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Prosecutor wants harsher charge reinstated against man who shot brother

Salt Lake woman pushing petition to support the man

Published: Monday, Oct. 1 2012 6:58 p.m. MDT

Defense attorney Susanne Gustin, left, comforts Eric Charlton as he sobs during a hearing in 4th District Court in Nephi Sept. 19, 2012.

Al Hartmann,

NEPHI — While prosecutors push for a harsher charge against a man accused of accidentally killing his brother, a Salt Lake woman is lobbying for compassion and support.

Prosecutors filed a motion in 4th District Court Monday asking a judge to reconsider a decision that reduced charges against Eric Charlton in the shooting death of his younger brother.

Juab County Attorney Jared Eldridge asked Judge James Brady to order Charlton to stand trial for manslaughter, a second-degree felony, in the death of 17-year-old Cameron Charlton. The judge previously decided against the manslaughter charge, opting instead to bind him over on a lesser charge of negligent homicide, a class A misdemeanor.

Eldridge wrote that the evidence shows there was a "substantial and unjustifiable risk" the night Cameron was killed and said Charlton, who spent six years as a Marine, disregarded that risk by pointing a gun with a loaded magazine at his younger brother.

"In deliberately pointing the gun at his brother's head and pulling the trigger, the defendant disregarded his training, his experience and the safety protocol he had demonstrated he knew just shortly before the shooting," the prosecutor said.

He thinks the case needs a second look.

"The current case is a very serious case with serious implications for both the defendant and the state," Eldridge wrote. "As such, it deserves a very careful and complete consideration."

Meanwhile, a Salt Lake City woman who has never met Charlton, 27, has organized a petition in an effort to help the man's case and show support.

Kimberly Harding doesn't know Charlton, but wants to help him. She has set up an online petition on the website Change.org to show that she, and others support Charlton.

"I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who have lost somebody and know the pain of losing somebody," Harding said. "I feel total compassion for him. ... I know that it was an accident that shouldn't have happened."

Her petition, titled "Prosecutor of Eric Charlton: Petition for compassion in Eric Charlton case," has netted 314 signatures. Harding is hoping to gather at least 5,000. She hopes it will compel prosecutors to drop charges, but more than anything, she just wants to show support.

"I think he's suffering in his own prison right now," she said. "I mean, you can put him behind bars, but the bars he's living behind right now in his mind and with his emotions is the worst prison that anyone could ever be in."

Cameron, his friend Jonathan Hummel and Charlton were camping with a group at Yuba Lake State Park over Memorial Day weekend. Early in the morning on May 28, the trio was sitting around a campfire and talking about girls, guns, the Marine Corps and trust, when Charlton swung a gun toward his younger brother and shot him.

In a police interview played in court, he said he couldn't remember what happened or why he had the handgun out. The trio had looked at the weapon earlier, but only after the veteran Marine had cleared the weapon. Charlton re-loaded the gun's magazine and placed it in a holster, but brought it back out while they were talking.

"It's all blank right there," Charlton told police of the shooting. "I wouldn't intentionally shoot my brother."

Cameron Charlton died at the scene from a gunshot wound to the head. Charlton repeated at the scene, and since, that it was an accident.

In addition to the negligent homicide charge, the West Haven man is also charged with reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor, and carrying a dangerous weapon under the influence of alcohol or drugs, a class B misdemeanor.

"There was no evidence in the present case that (Charlton) knew there was a round in the chamber that could be fired if the trigger were pulled," Brady wrote in his Sept. 21 decision to dismiss the second-degree felony manslaughter charge.

Defense attorney Susanne Gustin has been adamant that the shooting was an accident and that Charlton's family does not want to lose another son.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com, syi@ksl.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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