Ex-Police Chief Acquitted in Uzi Shooting Death
Boston Globe via YellowBrix
January 15, 2011
PELHAM, MA – The emotionally racked trial of a former Pelham police chief charged in connection with the accidental shooting death of an 8-year-old boy at a gun fair came to an end yesterday with a jury acquitting Edward Fleury, who cried at the verdict.
Fleury, 53, was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter and multiple counts of furnishing a machine gun to a minor. Christopher Bizilj of Ashford, Conn., lost control of an Uzi submachine gun and shot himself in the head in front of shocked onlookers that included his father and brother. The jurors had viewed chilling video footage of the youth’s death, which occurred in October 2008, before they rendered their verdict.
Several members of Fleury’s family embraced him after the verdict was announced in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield, said his lawyer, Rosemary C. Scapicchio of Boston.
“He’s just elated to be able to have a chance to put his life back together,’’ Scapicchio said in a phone interview.
Fleury said he regretted holding the machine gun shoot and will never do it again.
“I want to express my heartfelt sympathy to the Bizilj family,’’ Fleury said in a courthouse hallway to TV cameras and a throng of reporters. “It was always meant to be an educational event for people, and it’s unfortunate this terrible accident happened.’’
He said his arrest and the trial were devastating and that he would rather be “dropped into hell than go through this again.’’
His wife, Jacalyn, said: “I’m glad to have my husband back. He’s an innocent man.’’
Prosecutors argued that Fleury was criminally reckless because he allowed children to illegally shoot machine guns under the supervision of a firing range officer who was 15 at the time and who lacked proper licensing and training.
Scapicchio, however, argued that the boy’s father, Dr. Charles Bizilj, signed a waiver acknowledging the risks involved in letting his son shoot, including death, and that the event had occurred for several years without any problems.
“Our defense was that this was a tragic accident,’’ she said.
The charges against Fleury carried a combined sentence of up to 50 years in prison.
Christopher Bizilj died when the Uzi submachine gun he fired suddenly tilted upward and then backward in his small hands and a bullet pierced his head.
The fair was held at the Westfield Sportsman’s Club in Westfield and was organized by a company that Fleury owned.
Last week, jurors gasped as they watched a 15-second video clip of the boy’s death; his father had been filming his turn with the gun. Prosecutors stopped the video at the precise instant when the child remained standing but mortally wounded, sparing the jury the image of watching his body fall.
Before jurors saw the clip, Charles Bizilj testified that immediately after the accident he rushed to his crumpled son’s side and discovered that “a large portion of his cranium was missing.’’
Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni said last night in a phone interview that his office accepts the jury’s verdict. He said he would meet with his staff and his predecessor, William M. Bennett, who tried the Fleury case as a special prosecutor, to review the evidence before determining whether to move forward with pending charges against the two Connecticut gun dealers who supplied weapons at the event, Carl Giuffre of Hartford and Domenico Spano of New Milford.
“There’s just a constant sense of what an awful situation this is for all of the people involved,’’ he said. “There’s a young boy who’s gone, a young boy who’s not with us anymore and not with his family anymore.’’
The Westfield Sportsman’s Club was also charged criminally in the case and pleaded no contest in March, agreeing to pay fines totaling $11,000. The payments were split between two charities in the boy’s name.
An attorney for the club, Thomas Drechsler of Boston, said yesterday in a phone interview that he would not have been surprised by either an acquittal or a conviction in the Fleury trial. He said the club was facing different circumstances and the plea agreement was acceptable to the Bizilj family.
Another stipulation of the club’s plea agreement was that automatic weapons would never again be allowed; Drechsler said club officials decided to ban such events before a judge issued the order.
The club “is a very responsible member of the community,’’ he said.
Christopher Bizilj’s parents could not be reached for comment. His mother, Suzanne, said when the club filed its plea that the negligence in the case was “hard to comprehend’’ and that her son’s death left her traumatized.
“The emotional trauma of Christopher’s death haunts me every day,’’ she said in a statement read by a prosecutor. “We trusted this event would be fun and safe, with trained safety officers present. . . . In my opinion, the event was poorly supervised, with dangerous weapons in the hands of inept instructors.’’