COLLIER COUNTY — Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comment from the agency representing Jonathan Rowles.
COLLIER COUNTY — A judge held 15-year-old Jonathan Rowles criminally responsible Friday in the shooting death of his mother, finding him delinquent, the juvenile equivalent of guilty, of manslaughter.
Nearly a month after Rowles’ trial wrapped, Collier Circuit Judge Ramiro Mañalich announced his ruling before a packed courtroom, saying Rowles didn’t mean to kill his mother Kelly Ann, 39, in August 2010, but that Rowles knew the possible consequences of pointing a loaded gun at her.
Rowles’ disposition hearing, the juvenile version of sentencing, is scheduled for Feb. 12. He faces various sentencing options, but similar cases suggest time in a juvenile justice residential facility is likely.
Before about 50 people, including several prosecutors, law enforcement officials and supporters of Rowles, Mañalich offered condolences to the teen’s family, then issued his ruling.
“I think this is a tragic accident that was not the result of any intent to do harm to his parent,” Mañalich said.
Rowles, dressed in a grey shirt, dark tie and dark slacks, stared ahead at the judge as the ruling was read, never speaking during the hearing. His family didn’t speak to reporters afterward, and questions for Rowles’ lawyers were directed to 20th Circuit Public Defender Kathleen Smith.
"We are very disappointed with the court's ruling and are considering our next steps," Smith said in an email.
Rowles’ father, who has been in jail since March 2012, accused of molesting a teenage girl, declined an interview request earlier this week.
In interviews with investigators after the shooting, Rowles, then 13, admitted to taking a .22 caliber rifle from his father’s gun cabinet, loading it, then pointing it at his mother from behind through a narrow entryway of their East Naples home. The trigger was pulled — firearms tests showed the power needed to pull it exceeded that of opening a can of soda — and one bullet was sent into Kelly’s left temple, killing her.
Rowles told detectives he didn’t mean to pull the trigger, alluding to dogs that spooked him while his finger rested on the trigger. He said he thought the safety was on, a statement Mañalich called “credible” Friday.
Rowles’ defense also argued tests on the rifle were potentially tainted because a piece of the rifle went missing for 45 days, opening the door to tampering. Mañalich declined prior motions to dismiss the case based on this theory and called the tests reliable Friday.
While Mañalich said he didn’t believe the shooting was intentional, prosecutors didn’t need to prove as much. They had to show Rowles either intentionally committed the acts that led to his mother’s death, or prove Rowles knew, or reasonably should have known, his actions could cause death or great bodily harm. Mañalich ruled prosecutors proved the latter.
“I’m convinced from the evidence that Jonathan did not intend to harm or kill his mother, and frankly he’s not been so charged,” Mañalich said.
Prosecutors, speaking about the case for the first time outside a courtroom, said they never sought a grand jury indictment in Rowles’ case, the only way to bring adult charges against a juvenile under 14 years of age at the time of a crime. No plea offer was offered or sought in the case, prosecutors said.
Rowles now moves to the disposition phase, with Department of Juvenile Justice officials scheduled to prepare a report and sentencing recommendation. They will delve into Rowles’ mental health needs, educational background, family history and more, crafting a recommended sentence.
Possible disposition options include probation, community control or placement in a residential facility, with Mañalich holding the final say. A cursory search of juvenile manslaughter cases shows most juveniles found delinquent on manslaughter spent several months in a residential facility.
Prosecutors will be involved in those discussions about disposition. After Friday’s hearing, they said they haven’t considered what type and length of disposition they will request.
“Like everyone else, we all hope Jonathan is able to recover from this and move on with his life,” assistant state attorney Dave Scuderi said.