Mass. judge: Jurors can see video of Uzi death
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – A graphic video showing an 8-year-old boy accidentally killing himself with an Uzi submachine gun at a fair can be shown to the jury during the manslaughter trial of a former police chief, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Hampden Superior Court Judge Peter Velis also ruled that the jury in Edward Fleury's trial will hear the recording's audio track at least up to the shooting, but Velis was still deciding whether to leave out some of the sound after the shooting — the boy's screaming and his father praying aloud that his son is all right.
The video "would shock the conscience of any reasonable human being," Velis said, and he has to be careful that the evidence doesn't prejudice jurors against Fleury.
"The greatest risk in this case is invoking any sympathy," Velis said.
The video shows Christopher Bizilj, of Ashford, Conn., losing control of the 9 mm micro Uzi submachine gun during a 2008 gun fair at the Westfield Sportsman's Club and accidentally shooting himself in the head, authorities say. Fleury, the former Pelham police chief, was charged because he owned a company that co-sponsored the gun fair, prosecutors said.
Jury selection in the case began Tuesday and was expected to take several days. The judge said the trial could take up to two weeks.
Fleury's lawyer, Rosemary Curran Scapicchio, sought to have the video excluded from the trial, saying both sides agree that the boy shot himself and that the footage is too "horrific" for the jury to see. Scapicchio also had asked the judge, if he allowed the video into evidence, to mute the sound.
In an unusual request, she also said that if the video was allowed as evidence, it should be shown to prospective jurors during selection so they could decide whether it was too emotionally wrenching for them to remain impartial.
Velis ruled the video would not be shown during selection. Instead, jurors were to be told they would see a graphic video.
Hampden District Attorney William Bennett said the video shows recklessness and chaos at the gun fair.
Christopher's father, Dr. Charles Bizilj, was the one who recorded the video. After his son shot himself, he dropped the camera and nothing much is visible, Velis said. But the judge said there is a "plethora" of audio after the camera is dropped, including the reactions of the father and bystanders, that needs to be reviewed for possible redacting.
"The absolute horror that man sustained is ... overwhelming," Velis said, referring to the father.
Neither Scapicchio nor Bennett were immediately available for comment after the judge's ruling on the video.
Fleury, 53, was chief of the Pelham police department at the time of the accident. He went out on leave and never returned to duty. The town's select board announced three months after the boy's death that Fleury was stepping down. His lawyer said he retired.
Fleury, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter and furnishing a weapon to a minor, 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 — had conducted the same gun shoot at the Westfield club for seven years without incident. Giuffre and Spano were 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 on the manslaughter charge. 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.