Last Friday, a Hampden County Superior Court jury returned a verdict that a lot of people on either side of the gun control debate had been watching closely.
Called informally the “Uzi Death Case,” the former Chief of the Pelham, Massachusetts Police Department, Edward Fleury, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and multiple counts of Massachusetts firearms violations in the October 2008 death of an 8 year-old boy, Christopher Bizilj of Ashford, Connecticut. The young boy was attending a gun fair that was held at the Westfield Sportsman’s Club in Westfield, Massachusetts. While the gun fair was held on the grounds of the Westfield Sportsman’s Club, the event was organized by a company that Edward Fleury owned and operated. While attending the fair with his father, Dr. Charles Bizilj, the young boy lost control of an Uzi submachine gun he was holding, and shot himself in the head in front of shocked onlookers. Those onlookers included the boy’s father and his brother. Prosecutors alleged that Fleury was criminally reckless by allowing children to illegally shoot loaded machine guns, while being “supervised” by a firing range “officer” who was 15 years old at the time, and who possessed neither proper licensing nor firearms training.
Sounds pretty bad, but Fleury’s defense lawyer had some powerful facts to argue to this jury: 1) Principally, the boy’s father, (Dr. Charles Bizilj) had signed a waiver at the fair, acknowledging the risks (including death) involved in letting his son shoot a loaded gun; and 2) The fact that the event had been held for several years previous to this accident, without any problems. Legally, what these two facts did, was seriously damage (if not altogether destroy) the Hampden County District Attorney’s argument that Fleury was “criminally reckless”, a core of the Commonwealth’s charges against him. These facts also undercut prosecutors’ counts of illegally furnishing a machine gun to a minor. Had the above two facts not been present, Fleury may well have been convicted on these charges. If he were, he would have faced combined sentences of up to 50 years in state prison.
Even with these facts present, this case could have gone either way. One principal reason for this, was emotional rather than strictly legal: Young Bizilj’s tragic and violent death was captured on video tape – by his own father, who was recording his son’s turn to fire the gun that killed him. Prosecutors played the 15-second video tape to the jury. It was reported to be (naturally) horrific: The Uzi submachine gun that the boy was firing, suddenly tilted upward and then backward toward the boy, a bullet piercing his skull. To spare the jury and avoid inflammatory footage, the video was frozen at the precise instant when the bullet pierced the boy’s head, but with him still standing yet mortally wounded. The jury did not see his body fall. Before jurors viewed the footage, the boy’s Charles Bizilj, testified that immediately after the gun fired he rushed to his son’s side, discovering that “a large portion of his cranium was missing.”
Fleury cried at the jury’s verdicts, saying that he regretted holding the machine gun event and vowing that he will never do it again. He said that his arrest and the trial were devastating and that he would “rather be dropped into hell than go through this again.” “I want to express my heartfelt sympathy to the Bizilj family,” Fleury told reporters. “It was always meant to be an educational event for people, and it’s unfortunate this terrible accident happened.”
This is the kind of terrible thing that can happen to people facing Massachusetts firearms charges: Most of these defendants are not violent criminals, but otherwise law-abiding people who got caught in terrible circumstances surrounding the use or ownership of guns and other firearms. Exhibit A on that point? Edward Fleury was the former Chief of Police in the town of Pelham.
If you or someone you know faces charges involving Massachusetts firearms violations, contact us. We are very expereinced with these types of cases, and we can very effectively defend you, securing the best legal outcome possible. To use slang, don’t “mess around” with these types of charges: These cases can become extremely complicated. Don’t take chances with an attorney who isn’t adequately experienced in this area of law. We know what we’re doing. And we’ll stand in front of you until the best legal outcome is achieved.