DRAPER — Craig Allen Veale, the West Valley man who fatally shot his live-in girlfriend in the face with a shotgun, told a parole board officer Tuesday that he regrets the 2002 incident every day but still claims it was a "freak accident."

Veale, now 58, had been living with Loretta Romero for 13 years. He had lost his job six months before her death, had no other work prospects and had been drinking heavily. He said at his trial that he was considering suicide. He had consumed 42 beers starting the previous day and into the early hours of Dec. 28, 2002. He said he was attempting to adjust the .12-gauge pump-action shotgun when it went off, hitting Romero in the face.

Prosecutors told a different story: that a fed-up Romero had been working two jobs to support them, bills were piling up, Veale was making no effort to get work or stop drinking and she had told others she was making plans to get out of the relationship.

Romero's family does not buy Veale's account of what happened and said they grieve for her every day.

"Craig was someone our family took in as one of our own," said Gilbert Romero, brother of the dead woman. "He took advantage of my sister's good heart. Loretta was about to leave Craig and he could not allow this."

A jury in 2003 opted for the lesser crime of second-degree felony manslaughter, which carries a sentence of one to 15 years in prison. Although Veale has been a problem-free prisoner who technically is eligible for parole after five years behind bars, the Romero family believes he should serve his full term — and some even regret that he wasn't given a life sentence.

"Since Loretta's death, nothing has been the same," Romero said. "This man is a killer. His early release would send a message to society that murder is not a serious crime."

Veale responded that he had loved Loretta Romero and would never have intentionally hurt her.

"The reason I was contemplating suicide that day was so I could give her the release (from him and the relationship)," he said.

Veale said at first he didn't know that he had shot her as she fell head first into a bathroom, with her feet sticking out into the hallway area where he could see them.

"It's a nightmare for all of us, especially for me to see that. It haunts me. It's the first thing I think of every day when I wake up in the morning," he said.

The five-member board will consider Veale's parole request and respond within a month.

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