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Updated Friday, November 9, 2012 at 10:46 PM

Gun death of officer's child in hands of jury

By Christine Clarridge
Seattle Times staff reporter

EVERETT — Was the death of 7-year-old Jenna Carlile a tragic accident or a crime?

That's what Snohomish County jurors will have to decide as they weigh the fate of Marysville police Officer Derek Carlile.

Carlile, 31, is charged with second-degree manslaughter for leaving a handgun within reach of his 3-year-old son, who fatally shot his sister in March in Stanwood.

Carlile had left the .38-caliber revolver in a cup holder between the front seats of the family's parked van as he and his wife stepped away, leaving his four children alone inside.

Jurors began their deliberations shortly after noon Friday, one day after the start of the trial. After failing to reach a verdict, jurors will resume their deliberations Tuesday after the Veterans Day holiday.

The prosecution spent much of Thursday putting on its case, with Deputy Prosecutor Lisa Paul telling jurors that Carlile was fully aware of the danger of leaving the loaded, unsecured firearm in the van with four unsupervised children.

On Friday morning, when it came time for the defense to present its case, Carlile's attorney David Allen opted to not call any witnesses.

Instead, in his closing arguments, Allen reminded jurors that defendants do not have to prove their innocence. Rather, it's up to the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Allen insisted the state had not done so in Carlile's case.

Carlile was a conscientious father who unfailingly locked his firearms in a safe at home, Allen said. His failure March 10 to secure the revolver in the van in Stanwood was clearly a mistake, but "no more than a momentary lapse of judgment."

It was not, he said, a crime.

Allen said it was not the first time a child had died because of a parent's error, and he likened it to a child who drowns in a swimming pool after a parent leaves a door unlocked.

"All of us make mistakes," he said.

Further, he told jurors, Carlile has already been punished with the death of his daughter. "Nothing you could do would be worse than what Derek has already gone through."

But Paul told jurors not to let sympathy for the defendant play into their deliberations.

The fact that Carlile is "beating himself over the head, punishing himself, does not absolve him of responsibility," she said.

Carlile's action was not a mistake, but "criminally negligent conduct that directly resulted in Jenna's death." Criminal negligence is a "gross deviation" from the standard of care a reasonable person would expect, she said.

Carlile knew without question that his son, Steele, was fascinated with firearms and had tried to get into the gun safe at home. He also knew that his son moved "100 miles a minute" and didn't like to sit in his car seat, Paul said.

Further, she said, Carlile had been through hours of gun-safety training at the police academy.

And yet, even knowing all that, he put the gun in "the worst possible place in that van, in an open container where his son could see."

She said Carlile never once said he was surprised by his son's actions during his interviews with police.

"He should have anticipated the danger ... foreseen the risks. No reasonable person in their right mind would do that," she said.

Paul talked about an audio recording of Carlile's interview with police that jurors had heard Thursday, which Paul called his "confession."

"He said he was watching the van," said Paul, as Carlile's wife began to weep.

"He wasn't watching the van ... he would have seen his son get up and get the gun. He wasn't watching."

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983, or cclarridge@seattletimes.com


STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Marysville police Officer Derek Carlile, sitting between his lawyers, holds his head during testimony Thursday about the fatal shooting of his 7-year-old daughter.




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