SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – A jury failed to reach a verdict on the first day of deliberations Thursday in the manslaughter case against a gun fair organizer charged in the death of an 8-year-old boy who accidentally shot himself with an Uzi at a western Massachusetts machine gun expo in 2008.
Jurors in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield heard testimony over seven days during the trial of former police chief Edward Fleury. Deliberations began Thursday afternoon after the defense lawyer and prosecutor delivered closing arguments. They are scheduled to resume Friday.
Fleury is the former police chief in Pelham, Mass. His company co-sponsored the machine gun expo at the Westfield Sportsman's Club where Christopher Bizilj of Ashford, Conn., fired a 9 mm micro Uzi submachine gun that kicked back and shot him in the head. The boy's father, emergency room Dr. Charles Bizilj, recorded a graphic video of the accident that was shown to the jury.
Fleury faces up to 20 years in prison on an involuntary manslaughter count, and up to 10 years in prison for each of three counts of furnishing machine guns to minors.
Fleury's lawyer, Rosemary Curran Scapicchio, asked the jury in her closing argument why Fleury was being made a scapecoat in the boy's death. She said Fleury was taking $5 from patrons at the gate and wasn't supervising the firing line or picking out weapons for children.
"Where is the reckless and wanton conduct? There is none," Scapicchio said.
She said Fleury thought everything at the event was legal and safe, and he had checked with the local police department beforehand. The event had run seven years without incident. Scapicchio noted that there were several police officers at the machine gun expo who saw children shooting machine guns and did nothing to stop them.
She also said there were several layers of protection at the fair, beginning with a waiver everyone at the event signed acknowledging the risks, including death, and absolving anyone of liability if something bad happened.
Scapicchio said there were safety discussions. She said there were safety officers on the firing lines. She said parents decided whether their children could shoot automatic weapons.
Scapicchio also said Charles Bizilj was responsible for allowing his son to shoot the Uzi.
"He's got some parental responsibility here," she said. "If you think it's a dangerous activity, don't go."
She noted the testimony of Michael Spano, the 15-year-old who supervised Christopher at the time of the accident. Spano said he told Charles Bizilj twice that he didn't think it was a good idea for Christopher and his then-11-year-old brother, Colin, to fire the guns because of their strong kickback and rapid fire.
But prosecutor William Bennett said it was Fleury who made it possible for Christopher to fire the Uzi that day. Bennett said Fleury recklessly organized the event, had others bring machine guns to it and wrongly advertised to the public that there was no age limit and no permits were needed.
Bennett also said it was Fleury who put an unlicensed, uncertified 15-year-old boy on the firing line as a safety officer who was helping Christopher when the accident happened.
"This was a land mine waiting to explode," Bennett said of the event.
The prosecutor also asked the jury to again watch the graphic video of the shooting in slow motion, saying it shows a lot of what went wrong that day.
"One thing you know from looking at that video ... you know that's one powerful weapon," Bennett said. "You know that's one dangerous weapon. You know that's one lethal weapon. ... You'll see that no amount of instruction could have saved Christopher Bizilj that day."
Bennett added, "Looking at the video you can understand why the law prohibits anyone from furnishing a machine gun to a child. It's just too dangerous."
A main issue of contention in the case is whether children can legally fire machine guns. Bennett says it's illegal in any circumstance, but Scapicchio says there's an exemption in state law that allows minors to shoot firearms if they're being supervised by a firearms license holder. Scapicchio argued that some machine guns fit the definition of firearms under state law, if their barrels are less than 16 inches long, which is the case with micro Uzis.
The jury sent a question to Judge Peter Velis late Thursday asking about the exemption and about the state law on possessing firearms. Velis, over an objection by Scapicchio, told the 12 jurors that the exemption was not an issue before them.
Michael Spano's father, Domenico Spano of New Milford, Conn., and Carl Giuffre of Hartford, Conn., were also charged with involuntary manslaughter and await trial after pleading not guilty. The two men, who had machine gun licenses, brought the automatic weapons to the expo.
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