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COLLIER COUNTY — Jonathan Rowles' defense called its first witness Tuesday morning, a forensic consultant who testified about gun safety and the operation of the rifle used in the shooting.
Terrance LaVoy, a former Florida Department of Law Enforcement firearms expert, said leaving guns within reach of a 13-year-old, Rowles' age when he confessed to shooting and killing his mother, is a "recipe for problems, in my estimation." During his testimony, it was also said the safety mechanism didn't have an indicator to show whether it was on or off. Rowles has said he thought the safety was activated when he pulled the trigger one morning in August 2010, shooting and killing his 39-year-old mother, Kelly Ann.
LaVoy, however, said the rifle never malfunctioned during his 10 test fires. His tests also found a "trigger pull weight" of 7-1/4 pounds, high above the hair-trigger range of 2 pounds and the same as an FDLE expert's earlier testimony for the prosecution.
The defense is expected to call at least one other witness this afternoon, likely resting its case by the end of the day. Rowles is charged as a juvenile with manslaughter.
Prosecutors for the first time took a more accusatory tone Monday in Jonathan Rowles' juvenile manslaughter case, saying the teen was "well aware" that aiming a loaded rifle at his mother could lead to her death.
In defeating a motion for judgment of acquittal, which would have ended the case, prosecutors said the now-15-year-old was savvy enough around guns to know that putting more than a dozen bullets in a rifle, pointing it at his mother and putting his finger on the trigger could potentially be fatal.
They stopped short of arguing Rowles had a motive for killing his mother, Kelly Ann, 39, but argued Rowles intentionally sneaked behind her in their East Naples home and put himself in position to shoot her.
"He was well aware of his actions that day" in August 2010, assistant state attorney Tammy Wilson said. "We're not saying he intended to shoot and kill his mother. We're saying his actions on that day led to her death."
The judgment of acquittal only addresses whether there is insufficient evidence to warrant a conviction, not Rowles' guilt or innocence. Rowles' defense, having lost the motion Monday, is expected to call its witnesses Tuesday after prosecutors rested their case.
Arguing the motion, Rowles' lawyers said prosecutors hadn't proven Rowles' actions crossed into culpable negligence, which requires proof that Rowles knowingly, or reasonably should have known, his actions were likely to cause death or great bodily harm. In an interview with detectives hours after the shooting, Rowles said he accidentally shot his mother while imitating U.S. Marine rifle spinning drill teams.
"For culpable negligence, your honor, there has to be a conscious intent to do harm," assistant public defender Justin Barger said. "I would argue the spinning of the rifle and all those things can be likened back to the drill team."
Harkening back to the past three days of testimony, prosecutors painted Rowles as a teen trained by his father in gun safety, who loaded about 15 bullets and chambered one, then aimed at his mother through a narrow entryway as she sat in a chair. They recalled testimony from a state firearms expert, who said the gun had a "trigger pull weight" of 7 1/4 pounds, much more than the hair-trigger range of 2 pounds.
Rowles hasn't specified what caused him to pull the trigger, other than to say it was an accident and barking dogs might have spooked him.
"I think this goes beyond just mere negligence into a course of conduct that showed reckless disregard for human life," Wilson said.
The motion came after testimony from a medical examiner, who described Kelly Rowles' single gunshot wound in detail. Graphic photos were shielded from public view. Jonathan Rowles was moved to the jury box to keep him from seeing the pictures.
Lead detective David Hurm also took the stand as his two interviews with Rowles the day of the shooting were replayed. Much of Hurm's testimony had already been elicited during an October hearing for a motion to suppress the interviews.
If convicted, Rowles faces various sentencing outcomes, though none involve prison. He would be out of the juvenile justice system no later than age 21.