The parents of a 9-year-old Pekin girl accidently killed in their home last April pleaded guilty Friday to allowing their younger son access to a loaded handgun.
Terry and Veronica Garrison will serve a year of conditional discharge in the case, which began and ended with a 10-minute court appearance.
They were charged and pleaded guilty to endangering the life and safety of a child, causing death, punishable by up to five years in prison.
“I think the Garrisons are suffering enough,” Tazewell County Circuit Stephen Kouri said as he accepted the plea agreement. Their tragedy is “heartbreaking. The court system couldn’t add anything more to that.”
Haylee Garrison was fatally shot the night of April 7 in her home at 1802 Veronica Drive. She never regained consciousness and remained on life support for four days, until her ninth birthday, while organ transplant arrangements were made.
The child’s death “is a reminder of the risk when a gun owner fails to safely secure any firearm in a home, particularly when a child is present,” county State’s Attorney Stewart Umholtz said in a prepared statement.
While he supports “the Constitutional right to bear arms, I strongly believe that we need to be vigilant in stressing the tremendous responsibilities attached to gun ownership,” Umholtz said.
Their felony convictions will prevent the Garrisons from purchasing or possessing firearms.
The Garrisons spoke quietly, the child’s mother dabbing away tears, as they answered questions in their brief appearance. A prosecutor’s court affidavit revealed the tragedy as it unfolded.
Haylee was shot with a handgun that was left loaded on a shelf in the Garrisons’ bedroom, within reach of the couple’s 3-year-old son. Haylee’s 8-year-old cousin told investigators he had seen the younger boy carrying the weapon in the past, the affidavit stated.
The night of the shooting, the young child walked into a bedroom where Haylee and the cousin were playing, according to the affidavit. Terry Garrison, 33, was elsewhere in the house while Veronica, 32, was out running errands.
The cousin also was familiar with the gun, registered in Veronica Garrison’s name, stated the affidavit. He had seen his uncle handle the unloaded weapon and pull its trigger, he said.
The cousin took the gun from the young child, moved its slide back to look for bullets, saw none and let the slide return, stated the affidavit. He didn’t know that, in doing so, a cartridge had entered the firing chamber.
Assuming the gun was safe, the cousin pulled its trigger, expecting the “click” he’d heard when Terry Garrison handled the weapon, the affidavit stated. Instead it fired a round, striking Haylee in the throat.
Another prosecutor in the case said the Garrisons were “incredibly cooperative” in the investigation of their daughter’s death.
They possessed a firearms safe, the prosecutor said, but said they kept the handgun within reach in their bedroom for quick access in case it was needed.
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