NEPHI — A man charged with killing his 17-year-old brother made his first court appearance Tuesday surrounded by a family that his attorney says has been shaken "to the core."
Eric Charlton, 27, of West Haven, is charged with manslaughter, a second-degree felony, and reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor, in the May 28 death of of his brother Cameron.
Charlton wiped away tears Tuesday when the judge told him he could go to prison for up to 15 years. His attorney said the shooting was a tragic accident, and Charlton should never have been charged.
“We believe that a crime was not committed,” defense attorney Susanne Gustin said. “This was absolutely an accident.”
After the hearing, family and friends surrounded Charlton. One by one, they hugged him. Trevor Charlton said his sons, Eric and Cameron, were best friends. He was emotional when he said Eric wasn't a criminal and described how difficult the incident has been for the entire family.
“This has been harder on him (Eric) than anyone else,” he said.
“They’ve already lost one son, and they do not want to lose another,” Gustin added.
The brothers and a friend were sitting around a campfire and drinking beer on May 28, charging documents state. Eric Charlton had also been drinking rum, according to a police report. Eric Charlton showed them his unloaded gun to demonstrate tactical training techniques.
At one point Eric Charlton made the comment "You're my brother, you know you can trust me," pointed the gun at Cameron's temple and fired, the charges state. Immediately, Eric Charlton began to give his brother first aid, but Cameron was pronounced dead at the scene.
A distraught Charlton allegedly told officers, “I did it. I shot my brother. It was an accident.”
“It’s tough, and he’s having a very difficult time,” Gustin said. “The biggest thing is losing his brother, burying his brother. That’s been the most difficult thing for him.”
Charlton’s attorney wouldn’t say why he put the loaded magazine in the gun. She said an upcoming hearing will show that the shooting was an accident.
“It’s not like Eric has anything to hide,” she said. “The other witnesses said the same thing that Eric said.”
Gustin said Charlton is an honorable man. A former Marine who spent a year in Iraq, he is married and has a 2-year-old daughter and another on the way. In court, Charlton’s wife, who is due in October, held his arm.
“You can see the support of the courthouse that Eric has and what kind of person he is, and he’s a quality person,” Gustin said. “He has a lot of character.”
Cameron Charlton would have been a senior at Fremont High School this fall.
A preliminary hearing is set for Sept. 19 to determine if there's enough evidence for the case to go to trial.