It is every parent’s nightmare. Your teenager is visiting a friend’s house and someone pulls out a parent’s loaded gun and someone gets shot by accident. This is exactly what happened to two kids in Hollywood, Florida on April 28th, 2010.
On that fateful afternoon, Daniel Torres, 13, and Jeff Dilworth, 14, were both hanging out at Dilworth’s house. According the arrest warrant, Dilworth took his mother’s 9mm handgun from her nightstand and showed it to Torres and then put it back.
Dilworth later told police that he saw Torres handling the firearm and took it from him. While checking to see if the gun was loaded, Dilworth accidentally pulled the trigger as Torres walked in front of him. When the gun discharged, the bullet landed in Torres’ head.
A 911 tape reveals that Dilworth called for help in a panic. In that recording, he is heard screaming, “I just shot my best friend on accident! Oh my God! It was an accident! I’m sorry! Am I going to go to jail?”
For his actions that day, the Broward County State Attorney’s Office has decided to charge Dilworth with manslaughter – a first degree felony. Even though Dilworth is only 14, prosecutors also charged him as an adult, thereby exposing him to the possibility of going to prison for up to 30 years.
While the details of the case are unknown at this time, it is hard to believe that there is any real likelihood of successful prosecution for such a violent felony. No jury in their right mind would convict this child for this accident. Especially since Dilworth called 911 himself!
If anything, Dilworth is a victim. He is nothing more than a 14 year old boy who acted in accordance with his level of maturity. Lets get real – 14 year old boys are fascinated by three things: girls, guns, and sports.
If any criminal charge should be filed in this case, the only person responsible should be the adult who left a loaded gun within a teenager’s unsupervised reach. While the Broward State Attorney’s Office totally missed the mark on Dilworth, they did get it right when they charged his mother with culpable negligence.
Dilworth is just a kid. He doesn’t have an adult’s maturity or the benefit of professional firearm training. By all available accounts, he didn’t act with malice, with anger, or with any intent whatsoever, but to MAKE THE GUN SAFE. It is therefore wrong to hold him to an adult standard and charge him with a felony that could send him away for nearly as much time as Scott Rothstein – Fort Lauderdale’s billion dollar ponzi scammer.
With all due respect, I strongly disagree with the filing decision in this case.
Dilworth and his mother should hire a local defense attorney and immediately begin preparations for trial. A jury should review this case and decide if an accident, a true accident by immature teenage boys, warrants a felony conviction and the possibility of very serious prison time.
Insofar as strategy is concerned, Dilworth should be subjected to rigorous testing to determine his maturity level and intelligence. Should prosecutors persist with these charges and should this case go to trial, Dilworth would be well served by presenting the testimony of an expert in child psychology who could explain the impulses and maturity of a 14 year old boy – as if a jury really needs to hear it anyway.
At the end of the day, this case presents nothing more than a terrible, terrible accident. Hopefully the jury who hears this case will choose to avoid making Dilworth into a second victim of yet another preventable gun death.