Jan. 14, 2010 -- The former police chief who oversaw the 2008 gun expo where an 8-year-old boy accidentally shot himself in the face with an Uzi submachine gun was acquitted today after an emotional trial that featured video playback of the boy's last moments.
Edward Fleury broke down in tears as the jury announced he was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter of Christopher Bizilj on their first full day of deliberations at Hampden Superior Court in Massachusetts. Fleury was also cleared of three charges of furnishing machine guns to minors. He could have faced up to 20 years in prison.
The most heart-wrenching moment of the trial came Jan. 7, when video from the day of the shooting was replayed in court. Christopher's mother Suzanne left the courtroom in tears and his father Charles Bizilj, who was videotaping the boy at the time of the tragedy, closed his eyes from the witness stand during the playback.
The jury gasped as they watched the boy shooting the powerful weapon, which fires 20 rounds a second, and the gun's kick lifted the barrel up and the bullets struck Christopher in the right side of the head.
Fleury said he was grateful as he left the courtroom.
"It was always meant to be an educational event," Fleury said outside the courthouse. The former police chief said he will never hold a machine gun shoot again and expressed his "heartfelt sympathy" to the Bizilj family. Fleury is now eligible to reapply for his firearms license and to the police force.
"We are eternally grateful to [the jury] for giving Mr. Fleury back his life," said his defense lawyer Rosemary Curran Scapicchio. "He had been pretty stoic throughout the trial, it was such an emotional relief that it was over."
During the trial,Scapicchio argued that Christopher's father bore some responsibility for the boy's death for allowing, even insisting, that Christopher be allowed to shoot the powerful automatic weapon.
Prosecutors said they didn't charge Charles Bizilj because people who should have known that firing the gun was too dangerous had informed his decision to let his son fire the Uzi. As prosecutor William Bennett left the court house today he added that he didn't charge Bizilj because, "I thought he was punished enough."
Carl Guiffre of Hartford, Conn, and Domenico Spano of New Milford, Conn., supplied the guns for the expo. Both men are charged with involuntary manslaughter for their role in Christopher's death and they await trial.
Domenico's son Michael Spano testified during the trial. Michael was just 15 at the time of the shooting and was the one who handed over the powerful Micro Uzi to Christopher just moments before his death.
But the handover was at the request of Charles Bizilj, Spano said. Christopher's 11-year-old brother Colin had shot before Christopher. Colin first fired a full size Uzi, but the gun's automatic mode malfunctioned and was only shooting one round at a time. Charles Bizilj, who stood to the side videotaping, requested that his son shoot an automatic weapon so Spano offered up the Micro Uzi, according to Spano's testimony.
"I told him it wasn't a good idea because it shoots fast and kicks hard," said Spano, who said he twice warned the father. Spano was in charge of running people through the line that day and was not a trained instructor.
"He was shooting fine, then something happened," Spano said. "I ran over to my father, and I told him the gun hit the kid in the face."
Bizilj, who signed a liability waiver before the shooting, testified that he thought the expo would be well-supervised and safe. When questioned by prosecutor William Bennett as to whether he'd considered safety, Bizilj replied: "You can imagine this has gone through my head a thousand times."
Trial Clears Edward Fleury in Boy's Uzi Death at Gun Expo
Throughout the trial Scappiccio emphasized that Fleury did nothing illegal. She argued that Massachusetts state law has an exception that allows children to shoot firearms as long as a person with a license is supervising.
But experts say this is up for debate and parsing Massachusetts gun law can be challenging. Jim Wallace, executive director of the local gun rights advocacy group Gun Owner's Action League, said the state's gun regulations are at times incomprehensible.
"They're very poorly worded, they're very poorly put together, they're scattered among all different sections of law," he said. "The state needs to reform these things so people understand what's expected in them."
Buffy Spencer of The Republican newspaper and MassLive.com contributed to this report