Photo by WILLIAM DESHAZER // Buy this photo
A couple of months before a planned school field trip to a U.S. Marines training ground, Jonathan Rowles pulled a rifle from his father's unlocked gun cabinet and loaded it.
The 13-year-old told Collier County sheriff's detectives he went into his living room, twirled the weapon in the air, then pulled the gun to his shoulder. He pointed the rifle at some books, then took aim at a vase.
Finally, Rowles said, he turned the rifle toward his mother, who was sitting in a chair, reading a newspaper.
By accident, Rowles said, he pulled the trigger, shooting his mother from behind.
"I was pretending," Rowles told detectives in August 2010, "and I was just moving my finger a little bit."
The teen's account of the morning he shot and killed his mother, Kelly, 39, came out for the first time Thursday, when his lawyers argued his interviews with detectives after the shooting should be suppressed. Rowles, now 15, is charged as a juvenile with manslaughter.
In a lengthy interview with detectives the afternoon of the shooting, Rowles' answers to questions about the shooting came slowly, occasionally changing, with detectives growing stern as the interview progressed.
At first, Rowles said the gun went off while he spun the rifle in the living room. But when pressed further, he admitted to putting bullets into an unloaded rifle — because his father always loaded weapons when he took them out — and stealthily moving behind his mother's back, mimicking a U.S. Marine. After taking aim at other objects, Rowles said, he pointed the rifle at his mother.
His answers for how the gun went off were somewhat vague, at one point involving barking dogs that spooked him. Rowles said he thought the safety was on.
Some of Rowles' answers left investigators perplexed, causing them to take a more accusatory tone. About an hour into the interview, detective David Hurm Sr. took a seat closer to Rowles, hit a table a couple times and slightly raised his voice.
"So you're telling me you walked into the one spot where you could point a gun at your mom, you intentionally put a rifle to your shoulder and pointed it at her, and the only one bullet that was fired was by accident?" Hurm said.
When Rowles replied "yes," Hurm asked, "How can I prove that? How can I prove that you didn't walk over there on purpose and shoot your mom?"
No physical evidence from the scene was introduced at this week's suppression hearings, so the validity of Rowles' descriptions remains unknown.
Rowles described a good relationship with his mother, adding he had no reason to shoot her. He often cried during the interview, saying he was "just kind of mad at myself for everything."
In a taped interview with police after the shooting, Rowles' father, Christopher, said his son had been handling guns for about a year, typically at a range. Christopher Rowles said his son was a star student at New Beginnings, a local alternative school. He moved there from Manatee Elementary, where he disobeyed teachers and fought other students who bullied him.
Academically, Rowles had been held back a year, and his reading comprehension was not strong, Christopher Rowles said.
Jonathan Rowles' ability to understand his Miranda rights lies at the heart the motion to suppress the interviews.
Rowles' assistant public defender, Justin Barger, argued Thursday that Rowles couldn't knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda rights. Detectives didn't sufficiently explain Rowles' rights, and the trauma of his mother's death just hours earlier clouded his mental abilities, Barger said.
"I think there should have been more follow-up, and I think (the detectives) should have asked him if he wanted an attorney," Barger said.
Assistant State Attorney Tom Gorman III said Rowles could understand his rights, evidenced by his ability to answer questions during the interview. Rowles' father also was present while his rights were read.
"When you look toward the interview as a whole, he is responding appropriately; he is having conversations with the officers; he is reasoning, thinking rationally and thinking things through," Gorman said.
Collier County Circuit Judge Ramiro Mañalich said he expects to rule on the suppression motion within 20 days. A tentative trial date is set for Dec. 5.