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Man sentenced to 6 months in jail in accidental shooting of brother, may not serve time

Published: Thursday, Dec. 20 2012 5:49 p.m. MST

Eric Charlton shows a photo of his brother that he keeps in his wallet after his sentencing hearing at the 4th District Juab Courthouse in Nephi on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

NEPHI — The mother stood before the judge having already lost her youngest son, fearful of losing of another, and talked about her heart.

"My youngest son lost his life at the hands of my oldest son," Linda Osiek said. "I don't expect anyone to understand, as it's impossible to comprehend. My heart broke that night my son died, and it's been crushed watching Eric go through this."

Both Osiek and her husband, Trevor Charlton, asked 4th District Judge James Brady on Thursday to avoid prison when it came to sentencing their son, Eric Charlton, 27, in the shooting death of their youngest son, Cameron, 17.  

Eric Charlton had pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, a class A misdemeanor, and carrying a weapon while under the influence of alcohol, a class B misdemeanor, and faced up to a year and a half in jail.

"Please let me take my son home, and let us pick up the pieces and try to rebuild a family that is hurting and has been destroyed," Osiek said. "Nothing will ever bring Cam back, no matter what is imposed on Eric."

Eric Charlton walked out of court a free man for the time being Thursday after the judge sentenced him to a suspended sentence of one year in jail for the negligent homicide charge.

The judge sentenced Charlton to six months in jail for the class B misdemeanor charge, though a review hearing will be held Jan. 15 to determine whether Charlton will actually go to jail or whether he can come up with "an alternative to satisfy deterrence other than jail."

He also ordered Charlton to pay $3,500 in fines and spend 24 months on probation.

"A life was lost, and I can not overlook that fact," Brady said. "I don't believe it was intentional."

He added, though, that while he did not believe the incident was reckless, it was "grossly negligent."

"The risk and danger you knew to be present resulted in a loss of (Cameron's) life," Brady said.

The two brothers and one of Cameron Charlton's friends were sitting around a campfire May 28 during an outing to Yuba Lake. What had been a large group had slowly dwindled as the conversation turned to ghosts and poltergeists. The trio was "spooked out," and Eric Charlton retrieved a gun from his truck.

A former Marine, Charlton emptied and cleared the weapon, according to court testimony, before he demonstrated some shooting techniques to the teenage boys. He replaced the gun's magazine and holstered the weapon, but got it back out later and, at one point as he talked about trust, he swung the gun out and it went off, killing Cameron Charlton.

Eric Charlton has reiterated that what happened was an accident and told a deputy at the scene, "It's all blank right there," when it came to just before the shooting. "I wouldn't intentionally shoot my brother."

He told the deputy he had some drinks that night — two mixed drinks and maybe a couple of beers. He submitted to a blood draw four hours later. His blood alcohol level was .06.

Though charged with manslaughter, a second-degree felony, the judge opted to order Charlton to instead stand trial on the reduced misdemeanor negligent homicide charge. Eric Charlton said he never felt felony charges were appropriate, but pleaded guilty as soon as misdemeanors were an option.

"I accept what happened," he said. "As much as I wish it didn't happen, after it did, I did everything I possibly could to save my brother."

Cameron Charlton's birthday was Dec. 8. He would have been 18.

Trevor Charlton said he knew Cameron and knew that he adored his older brother and would have forgiven him for what happened.

"(Cameron) would have stood up for Eric," the boys' father said. "He would have fought for him. In my opinion, he wouldn't have wanted charges filed. … I know that Cameron would have wanted compassion for Eric. I believe that justice demands compassion and mercy and leniency."

As part of the plea agreement, Juab County Attorney Jared Eldridge agreed to defer the sentence to the judge. But he focused his comments on accountability.

"As hard as it is for me, we need to hold Eric Charlton accountable for what he did," Eldridge said. "Eric had control of that gun coming out. He had control of where that gun was pointing. … He had control every step of the way. It was unfortunate. It was unintentional, but it was not an accident. It was utterly reckless."

Eldridge challenged Eric Charlton to live his life as a monument to his younger brother. When Eric Charlton spoke, he thanked the judge and Eldridge, and he talked about what he is trying to do to be the best father, son and husband he can.

He said he is the father of two children and spends more time with them because his younger brother told him to put family first. He said he wears a wrist band that says, "Always Remember. Cam Bam," with "I love you" inscribed on the inside.

"I've got his watch, and it sounds cheesy, but I even carry around a flower I got off of his coffin and carry it everywhere," Eric Charlton said.

Every day, he said, he drives by the cemetery where his brother was buried. That's also how often he cries about what happened. He said he goes to the cemetery and talks to his brother. He said he has fallen asleep on his brother's grave.

"It will always be on my mind," he said, adding that when it comes to forgiving himself, he anticipates that it will be "not fully. Ever."

Defense attorney Susanne Gustin told Brady that her client will punish himself for the rest of his life. She said the case has been "gut-wrenching" and that she will now work with Charlton to come up with a plan for the judge that will satisfy the need for deterrence without jail time.

"It does put pressure on us, but it also gives us an opportunity," she said. "We don't know the sentence yet. We're satisfied to this point. ... Cameron would not want him to go to jail."

Eldridge said he would have liked to have seen Eric Charlton convicted for a felony to keep him from ever possessing firearms, though that restriction is a term of Charlton's probation. He said he believes he could have won an appeal on Brady's ruling to reduce the charge, but also didn't want to delay healing for the Charlton family.

The family did not comment on the sentence, stating they want to wait until after the review hearing, when they learn whether Eric Charlton will avoid prison. Both Trevor Charlton and Linda Osiek said in court, though, that the ongoing court process has made it difficult for them to move forward.

"It's hard to heal with this looming over not just Eric. It's looming over my family," Trevor Charlton said. "It's been hard to think about anything else."

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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