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Last updated on Wednesday, September 7, 2011
(MARTINSVILLE) - A 12-year-old boy didn’t realize he was handling a loaded rifle when it fired the shot that killed his 6-year-old brother at their Martinsville home, his defense attorney said in opening statements at his murder trial.
That account differs from what the boy told a police dispatcher in a 911 tape played in court, in which he said the younger boy had shot himself.
Testimony began Tuesday before Morgan County Judge Christopher Burnham, who will determine whether the boy is guilty of murder and reckless homicide charges in the June 30 shooting of Andrew Frye.
The boy, who has a different last name than his brother, is being tried as a juvenile, but still could face several years in detention if he's convicted. The boy was 11 years old at the time of the shooting, but turned 12 last month.
Defense attorney John Boren didn't dispute that the boy fired the deadly shot, but insisted that he didn't mean to hurt his younger brother. Frye died after being shot in the head with a .22-caliber bolt-action rifle.
Boren told the judge there was no intent for this to happen and argued the 911 recording would show his client was shocked, scared and surprised the gun went off. Boren said the 911 call was not a call of a cold-blooded murderer.
Boren said he would have a gun safety expert testify about how difficult it is for adults to know for certain whether a gun is loaded, much less a child.
In the 911 tape played in court, the boy sounded breathless and panicked, saying that he was in the living room of their home when he heard a loud pop and found his wounded brother in a bedroom. He said that he put the gun back where it belonged in his parent's bedroom.
"I don't know how he got the bullets in there," the boy said during the call.
During opening statements, Martin County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega told the judge the 12-year-old took a loaded rifle from his parents' bedroom, went to his bedroom and shot the 6-year-old between the eyes.
The prosecutor said the shooting happened while the 12-year-old was angry. He was being punished by his parents for not cleaning up his room, and if the room didn't get cleaned up he would not be taken out for pizza. Sonnega said the boy pointed the gun at his younger brother trying to scare him into cleaning up the bedroom.
Sonnega told the courtroom the 12-year-old had been trained on how to handle and use a firearm and that evidence would show the boy knew better to point, aim and fire the rifle at his brother.
Witnesses Take Stand
The first witness to take the stand was Morgan County dispatcher Mike Harrington. He testified the 911 call was made by the 12-year-old boy and the boy sounded panicked.
The boy told the dispatcher he was watching a show, heard a loud pop and walked in to see his brother twitching. He said he was in the bathroom when his brother apparently got the gun and shot himself in the head.
"I'm scared. My dad is going to kill me," the 12-year-old told the dispatcher.
Before the 911 call was played in court, the 12-year-old left the room. Attorneys on both sides agreed it was not necessary for the boy to hear the 911 call or see the crime scene photos.
Other witnesses testifying for the prosecution included the first responders and the Indiana State Police crime scene investigators.
ISP Sgt. Ken Knight said during the investigation he found two kitchen knives on the bunk bed where the victim was found - one under the bed, and two more in the child's bedroom in the house.
Four hours after the shooting, the 12-year-old met with a forensic interviewer at Susie's Place. The nonprofit organization is a child advocacy group that interviews victims of child abuse and children who have witnessed traumatic events. Executive director Emily Perry conducted the interview which lasted more than 90-minutes.
The boy told Perry multiple times that his brother shot himself.
The 12-year-old told Perry, he and his brother were left home alone soon after breakfast. During the day, the older boy said, he played with his brother.
The 12-year-old repeated the same story he told the dispatcher, that he went to the bathroom, returned to watch TV and then heard a pop. He said he went to check on his brother and saw him lying on his bed with a rifle between his knees. The older boy said he then put the rifle back in his parents' room and called 911.
The boy also told the interviewer, his brother had told him earlier in the day that he was going to kill himself.
A second interview with the 12-year-old was also shown in court, this one with an Indiana State Police trooper who spoke with the boy less than an hour after the shooting.
The older boy said neither he nor his brother had ever played with the rifle before, but he knew where the weapon was kept in his mom's bedroom.
During the interview with the trooper, the boy's story never changed. He said he was watching TV when he heard the gun go off.
Randy Vandagrifft testified he took the boy hunting at least nine times after the boy turned 9-years-old. Vandagrifft testified that he drilled the 12-year-old on gun-safety practices. He also told the boy to always make sure the gun was unloaded and the safety was engaged.
However, on cross-examination by Boren, Vandagrifft said he couldn't remember if he trained the boy on how to properly handle the .22-caliber bolt-action rifle that fired the round that was used.
Results of Autopsy
When the prosecutor questioned the lead detective in the case, the judge was informed the autopsy results put into doubt the 12-year-old's story.
The coroner ruled that it would have been impossible for the 6-year-old to shoot himself.
The coroner added the rifle had been shot from an intermediate range, and after measuring the 6-year-old's arms, there was no way the young boy could have shot himself.
Mother and Boyfriend Charged With Neglect
The boys' mother Amanda Vandagrifft, 28, was charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in the death and three additional counts of neglect of a dependent.
Matthew Boulden, Vandagriff's boyfriend, was also charged with three counts of neglect of a dependent.
Police say Vandagrifft and Boulden, left the gun where the children could get to it.
Police say the couple should have never left the 12-year-old alone with the other children because of past acts of violence.
The 12-year-old told police he has used knives and guns in the past to scare his siblings into doing chores.
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