John Norris acted with criminal negligence in the shooting death of his wife a year ago, a prosecutor said Thursday.
But Norris’ defense attorney said that while his client may have made a mistake in judgment, no crime was committed and in an ideal world, accidents never would happen.
The case is now in the jury’s hands after closing arguments wrapped up Thursday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.
Norris, 25, has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter of his wife, Tasha Dawn Norris, and possession of an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle with allegedly illegal features — including a flash suppressor.
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Prosecutor Matt Kerrigan said that Norris acknowledged in a police interview that he should have unloaded the magazine of the Taurus 1911 handgun as he handled the gun in the couple’s San Miguel living room.
Norris told police that he didn’t think the magazine was in the gun, but he checked the chamber, and didn’t see a live round, before he got up and tripped over a dog.
The gun fired and struck Tasha Norris, fatally wounding her, Norris said.
“He says he knows he should have dropped the magazine,” Kerrigan said. “But he didn’t.”
Kerrigan called Norris’ attitude about firearms casual and said Norris could have used safety features, including a safety clip that prevents the gun from firing.
Those would be normal actions of someone handling a gun in a room with a loved one, Kerrigan said.But defense attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu said that his client had become accustomed to handling guns in the military.
Norris is an E4 specialist — the rank below a sergeant in the U.S. Army — and served in Iraq.
Because of complacency, he made a lapse in judgment when handling the handgun on July 9, 2009 — but he committed no crime, Funke-Bilu said.
“No one can place more guilt on my client than my client has already put on himself,” Funke-Bilu said. “He will live with this forever.”
Funke-Bilu compared Norris’ handling of the weapon to an accident involving a motor vehicle, saying deaths on the road happen every year, often closest to where people live.
Funke-Bilu said that his client was working 40 to 70 hours per week at his job at Camp Roberts in the time leading up to the shooting. The couple was also was raising their 8-month-old boy and a daughter, 2. He said his client wasn’t getting enough sleep.
If convicted of the charges, Norris faces a maximum of five years in prison. The trial was heard before Judge Michael Duffy’s court.