Published November 17, 2014
A judge ruled Friday that jurors in the manslaughter trial of a former western Massachusetts police chief won't hear audio from the most graphic part of a video that shows an 8-year-old boy accidentally shooting himself to death with an Uzi submachine gun.
Hampden Superior Court Judge Peter Velis' ruling came as jury selection began in the case of former Pelham Police Chief Edward Fleury, whose company co-sponsored a 2008 gun fair in Westfield where Christopher Bizilj of Ashford, Conn., shot himself in the head.
Velis earlier ruled that jurors will see the video, but said Friday that they will not hear the audio portion at the time of the shooting and afterward because it would be too prejudicial against Fleury. Velis said last week that the video and sound are horrific and "would shock the conscience of any reasonable human being."
The video was taken by Christopher's father, Dr. Charles Bizilj, and shows the boy losing control of the 9 mm micro Uzi, shooting himself, and Dr. Bizilj dropping the camera amid screams and praying aloud that Christopher is all right, officials say.
About 70 potential jurors were told Friday that a graphic video of the shooting would be shown during the trial, and more than a dozen of them indicated that the video may have too much of an emotional effect for them to be impartial. About 19 jurors indicated they had a problem with the trial schedule, which comes amid the holidays.
District Attorney William Bennett and Fleury's lawyer, Rosemary Scapicchio, combined have more than 45 people listed as potential witnesses. Velis said the trial could take one to two weeks. Bennett, who didn't seek re-election and is scheduled to leave office Jan. 5, will stay on to prosecute Fleury's case.
It wasn't clear if jury selection would be finished by the end of Friday.
Jury selection began last week but was scrapped after Fleury fell ill and had to be hospitalized. Scapicchio said Fleury was discharged Thursday from a Northampton hospital and is now taking medication for a gastrointestinal ailment.
Fleury, 53, was chief of the Pelham police department at the time of the shooting. He went on leave, didn't return to duty and, Scapicchio said, retired. The town's select board announced three months after the boy's death that Fleury was stepping down.
Fleury has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and furnishing a weapon to a minor. He has declined to comment.
Scapicchio has said there is no way Fleury could have anticipated that a child would die when he co-sponsored the event. The two men who supplied the guns — Carl Giuffre and Domenico Spano, both of Connecticut, — had conducted the same gun shoot at the Westfield club for seven years without incident. Giuffre and Spano are also charged in the boy's death.
Charles Bizilj was not charged because he was a layman and based his decision to allow his sons to fire the gun on information from others who should have known it was too dangerous, prosecutors have said.
Fleury faces a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He faces a maximum of 10 years on the weapons counts.
Giuffre and Spano have pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and are awaiting trial.