A 12-year-old boy charged with murder didn't know a rifle was loaded when he pulled the trigger and shot his younger brother in the head, he told investigators in a videotaped interview played Tuesday in court.
In two other videotapes, the boy, who was 11 at the time of the shooting, said 6-year-old Andrew Frye shot himself June 30 at their home near Martinsville. He changed his story when questioned a third time after an autopsy showed no powder burns and that Andrew's arms were too short to shoot himself in the head.
Lawyers began presenting evidence before a Morgan County judge who will determine whether the boy is guilty of murder and reckless homicide charges in the June 30 shooting. The boy, who has a different last name than his brother, is being tried as a juvenile but still could face several years in detention if he's convicted.
In the third videotaped interview, with his mother and stepfather present, he said he loaded the rifle the day of the shooting but ejected bullets from its magazine, not realizing one round was still chambered. He then confronted the younger boy over a chore.
"I said, `Clean up your room.' He said, `No,"' the boy said. He said he then pointed the gun and shot Andrew.
Andrew was shot from 3 to 6 feet away, an autopsy determined.
Also during the third interview, the first in which he was considered a suspect and not merely a witness to a suicide, the boy acknowledged he had threatened Andrew and a sister with loaded weapons in the past, telling them at the time, "I am going to kill you."
The boy was escorted out of the courtroom during the playing of the first two videotaped interviews, in which he was emotional and sometimes cried. He remained present for the third, peering over defense attorney John Boren's shoulder at a transcript.
Earlier, the boys' former stepfather testified he trained the older boy how to handle guns safely, but not specifically on the 22-caliber bolt-action rifle used in the shooting.
Randy Vandagrifft testified he began taking the boy hunting after he turned 9, teaching him gun safety skills like making sure the safety was on and that a weapon didn't remain loaded.
"I tried to drill that into him," Vandagrifft said.
However, on Boren's cross-examination, Vandagrifft said he couldn't remember if he trained the boy on how to shoot the bolt-action rifle used on June 30 and never had a chance to teach him how to handle the weapon safely before separating from the boys' mother.
Morgan County prosecutor Steve Sonnega said after the hearing ended that he was trying to prove the boy acted recklessly with the rifle because he had a stronger case on the lesser charge and believed he could establish that because of the boy's gun training.
"He had a functional understanding that it wasn't a toy. It was a deadly weapon," Sonnega said.
Boren in his opening statement didn't dispute that his client fired the deadly shot but insisted that he didn't mean to hurt his younger brother. He said he would have a gun safety expert testify about how difficult it is for adults to know for certain whether a gun is loaded, much less a child
"What we have here is a tragedy. It's an accident," Boren said. "There was no intent for this to happen."
The boys' mother is charged with neglect for leaving the gun where the children had access to it.