No charges filed in Clinton boy's accidental shooting death
Posted May 20, 2012
Elizabethtown, N.C. — The Bladen County district attorney decided not to file criminal charges in the accidental shooting death of an 8-year-old Clinton boy hunting squirrels with friends in Bladen County last November.
District Attorney Jon David said in a statement last week that no laws regarding storing firearms were broken in the events that led to the Nov. 25, 2011 death of James Ethan Bartley.
"Accidents are not generally punished as crimes, even severe accidents that lead to tragic outcomes. For a person to be prosecuted for an offense, all elements of a criminal charge must be satisfied," David said.
The parents of Ethan and two of his friends, ages 11 and 12, went shopping while the boys were playing video games, with an 18-year-old relative in the house on Soup Haire Road outside Elizabethtown.
The boys found a .22-caliber rifle in an outbuilding and decided to go hunting, authorities said. An older boy tripped over the rifle, and it fired, hitting James in the side.
David stressed that the gun was not stored in the home and that it was unloaded and under a blanket. As well, he said, the children hadn't tried to get the gun in the past and had loaded it themselves.
State law makes it illegal to keep a gun "capable of being discharged" in the reach of minors or for adults to keep a gun in a place where children have tried to get it in the past. In this case, neither circumstance was present, David said.
"Under such a set of facts, a criminal charge is not possible against any adults residing in the residence," he said. "Absent any law specifically on point, it is not reasonable to hold adults criminally responsible for the actions of children."
David said he had met with Ethan's family before announcing the decision, which was reached after "considerable legal research" and investigation by the Bladen County Sheriff's Office and the North Carolina Wildlife Commission.