While the Brevard County deputy who told investigators he accidentally shot and killed his roommate and fellow deputy over the weekend faces a felony and the end of his career, he is not likely to spend a long time in prison, experts predict.
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During a video game break Saturday morning, Deputy Andrew Lawson told investigators he pointed his gun at Deputy Austin Walsh, believing the gun was unloaded.
Lawson said he pulled the trigger to make the gun click, then racked the gun, evidently to produce the same result, an affidavit indicated.
However, the gun had a magazine in it, and racking the gun inserted a bullet into the chamber. When Lawson pulled the trigger for a second time, a bullet was discharged, hitting Walsh in the head.
Investigators said they found a second bullet in the chamber of the semiautomatic Glock but did not mention if any more were in the magazine.
The case has puzzled gun advocates and the public alike, as Lawson appeared to ignore the first thing taught to someone learning how to shoot.
"This is the basics of basics, you should always assume a gun is loaded," attorney James Phillips, founding partner of Katz & Phillips, P.A., a gun-oriented law firm, said. "I've never had an actual case where it was an adult - much less a law enforcement officer - playing around with the gun that shot somebody else, but it's not uncommon for things like this to happen."
Lawson has been charged with manslaughter, though it was enhanced because of the use of a firearm. Analysts say the maximum sentence he could face is 30 years behind bars, though there is largely agreement that a plea deal will be cut.
"This is going to be just trying to minimize his punishment that he's going to receive," Phillips said. "I don't expect the state attorney's going to push for any kind of higher charges, or really seek to penalize this guy to the maximum."
Although some people have questioned Lawson's intent by pulling the trigger more than once, the analysts say his bigger problem - the one a prosecutor is more likely to hone in on - is his status as a law enforcement officer. Lawson joined the Brevard County Sheriff's Office as a deputy in April.
"That's not going to be in his favor," WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said. "He's going to be held to a higher standard than an ordinary citizen would be."
However, investigators have not said whether alcohol was a factor. If it was, Sheaffer said, it could work in Lawson's favor to show a lack of intent.
Phillips added that Walsh's family would also be a deciding factor in his sentencing if Lawson was found guilty.
"Are they on board with him, this being a mistake and have sympathy for him?" he theorized, "Or, are they going to be the extreme opposite and … thrown under the jailhouse?"
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