A Beebe man accused of manslaughter in the accidental shooting of a 7-year-old girl pleaded guilty Thursday in White County Circuit Court.
Jeremiah Chad Owens, 26, was visiting a high school friend, Matthew Wezowicz, on Feb. 27. Owens was examining a new handgun Wezowicz had bought earlier in the day when the gun went off.
The bullet hit Wezowicz's daughter Karma near her right eye.
Owens said the gun was laying in his lap, a statement that was corroborated by a bullet hole in the arm of the love seat he was sitting on. He told police he did not know the gun was loaded, according to the case affidavit.
Police responded about 8 p.m. and found Wezowicz standing in the driveway, holding his daughter. Karma was transported by air ambulance to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock where she died March 4 after being taken off a ventilator.
Owens told police that he had two beers and had taken a couple of Valium pills before going to Wezowicz's home, according to court records.
Police interviewed Wezowicz in the hospital, according to the case file.
"He was looking at his daughter, who was sitting on a couch beside the love seat, and he hears a gunshot and he sees his daughter fall forward," according to the affidavit.
Owens was originally charged with first-degree battery with bail set at $50,000, a charge that was upgraded to manslaughter, a Class C felony, after Karma died.
Owens' jury trial on the charge had been scheduled to begin Monday before Circuit Judge Robert Edwards.
Wezowicz said Friday that he found out from a voice mail left by the prosecuting attorney, Rebecca McCoy of Searcy, that a plea hearing was scheduled Thursday. He said he is glad to avoid going through the trial.
Owens' sentencing hearing will be Aug. 2, when Wezowicz will give an impact statement about the loss of his daughter.
"Hopefully it's an impact that gets him the full sentence," Wezowicz said in an interview Friday.
Owens faces three to 10 years of imprisonment and a possible fine of up to $10,000.
Hubert Alexander, the defense attorney for Owens, declined to comment.
Brenda Wezowicz, Karma's grandmother who was also in the house at the time of the shooting, Matthew Wezowicz and another family member attended the plea hearing Thursday. Brenda Wezowicz said she also plans to be there for the sentencing hearing.
She said she is angry that Owens will not be in jail in the weeks preceding his hearing. He is free on bond until the sentencing.
"He walked free during my granddaughter's funeral, and he walked free out of those door yesterday," Brenda Wezowicz said.
"It just makes me feel like her life is nothing to the state of Arkansas."
Metro on 07/08/2017