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    Inadvertent shot possible, expert says

    Defense attorneys say a man charged with murdering a 6-year-old meant to fire into the air.

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 25, 2000


    LARGO -- Jessy Joe Roten told his mother he wasn't a murderer. The shot from his assault rifle that killed a 6-year-old girl was fired in error, not in anger, he says.

    A firearms expert hired by his defense attorneys testified in Roten's second-degree murder trial on Tuesday that Roten's explanation of how he accidentally fired a shot that killed Ashley Mance is plausible.

    Prosecutors, who rested their case Tuesday, call his explanation improbable.

    Firearms expert Terry LaVoy said that Roten told him that, while still holding the rifle with both hands, he used his chin to depress a button on the gun that allowed the gun's stock to be folded back.

    Roten then used his trigger arm to fold the stock inward toward the gun while his finger was still on the trigger, LaVoy said.

    That can put unexpected pressure on the trigger finger, causing the gun to fire accidentally, LaVoy said.

    LaVoy said he tested the gun eight times. Six times, he testified, he unintentionally pulled the trigger after folding the stock in the manner Roten says he did the morning of the April 3, 1999, shooting.

    But Pinellas prosecutor Bill Loughery said it was likely that Roten would have knocked a few of his teeth out had he accidentally fired the Chinese assault rifle while depressing the button with his chin.

    The gun's recoil would have hit his face, marking or cutting it, Loughery said. LaVoy agreed.

    LaVoy said using the chin to depress the button that allows the gun stock to be folded for storage isn't a normal or easy way to fold the gun.

    But defense attorney Buck Blankner asked him, "You're not 17 years old, are you? Wouldn't you admit a 17-year-old would do something more recklessly than someone who is older?"

    An objection by Loughery prevented LaVoy from answering.

    Roten, now 19, also faces two attempted murder charges in a shooting that also wounded Ashley's twin sister, Aleesha, and their half-sister, Jailene Jones.

    Prosecutors have charged the felonies as a hate crimes, saying the self-avowed skinhead fired the shots because the girl's father was a black man living with a white woman he later married. Roten, prosecutors say, abhorred interracial couples.

    But defense lawyers say Roten intended to fire the gun in the air, angry at a break up with his girlfriend. They say he is guilty of nothing more than manslaughter.

    Chris Trumble, a prosecution firearms expert, also testified about the power of the assault rifle. In a video played for jurors, he fired several rounds into an 8-inch concrete block, destroying it within seconds.

    The week-old trial continues today and may not conclude until Thursday. Roten is not expected to take the stand in his own defense.

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