- Charlton pleads guilty to lesser charges in shooting death of his brother
By Myrna Trauntvein
A Weber County man who was visiting Juab County when he shot and killed his younger brother pleaded guilty to reduced charges Tuesday.
Eric Charlton, 27, was on a camping trip with his brother and others last May at Yuba Lake when the shooting occurred.
On Tuesday, E. Charlton pleaded guilty to one count each of class A misdemeanor negligent homicide and class B misdemeanor carrying a weapon while under the influence of alcohol, defense attorney Susanne Gustin said.
Jared Eldridge, as county attorney and chief prosecutor in the case, earlier filed a request seeking to have Judge James Brady reconsider his decision to let Eric Charlton stand trial on lessor charges.
"We filed a motion asking Fourth District Court Judge Brady to reconsider his decision and to order Eric Charlton to stand trial for manslaughter," said Eldridge. "I am still a little dumbfounded by the Judge's decision to reduce the charge considering the facts of this case."
The charge of manslaughter, a second-degree felony, was dropped but two of three misdemeanor charges were left in a decision made by Brady.
"We thought the case needed a second look," Eldridge said.
Brady, in a decision released two days after a preliminary hearing was held in Juab County a month ago, ruled that the term "reckless" did not provide the needed definition to bind over Eric Charlton, on the charge of second-degree felony manslaughter in the shooting death of his younger brother, Cameron Charlton, 17.
"This has been a difficult case from the beginning," said Eldridge. "Even though I have worked closely with the family, it has been difficult to balance their concerns and desires with the need for accountability. This case has always been about accountability from my perspective."
As part of a plea deal, prosecutors agreed to dismiss one misdemeanor charge and abandon the attempt to have Charlton face a felony charge with its potential prison time for the death of his brother. Eldridge will also defer sentencing to Judge Brady but did recommend that the sentences for the two charges run concurrently.
"Although I strongly disagree with the Judge's decision to reduce the charge, I believe Mr. Charlton can still be held accountable," said Eldridge. "I anticipate the sentencing hearing in December will set the stage for the healing process to begin so this family can move forward toward reconciliation and forgiveness. Although this case has been difficult for everybody involved, I am confident at the end of the day, the need for justice and mercy will be satisfied."
The sentencing hearing is scheduled for December 20 at 1 p.m. in Nephi.
"I anticipate this will be a very emotional hearing," said Eldridge.
Eric Charlton brought his newborn son to the courtroom Tuesday. The child, named for Cameron Charlton, brought an occasional smile to Eric Charlton's face.
"Anytime a person points a gun at another person's head and pulls the trigger at point blank range, even if the person thinks there is no bullet in the chamber, that is reckless behavior and not an accident from my point of view," said Eldridge. "Obviously the fact that Mr. Charlton was intoxicated while doing this only exacerbated the situation."
"In this case, there are no winners or losers. Cameron Charlton is dead. We're never going to get the chance to know what he could have done with his life," said Eldridge
Eric Charlton was teary as he entered his plea and was still emotional but less so than during a preliminary hearing last month where he sobbed for hours.
"The victim's family is also the perpetrator's family," defense attorney Susanne Gustin said. "Their input should weigh heavily and they wanted it to be resolved."
Gustin said the brothers were close and the family recognized the shooting as a terrible accident.
Eric Charlton, Cameron Charlton and Cameron's friend were sitting around a campfire late the evening of May 28. A large group had been together in the beginning but that number had slowly dwindled. As the three were talking the conversation turned to ghosts and when coyotes were heard in the distance, Eric Charlton, a former Marine, retrieved his .45 caliber handgun from his truck.
Eric Charlton emptied and cleared the weapon. He then demonstrated some shooting techniques. When done, he replaced the gun's magazine and holstered the weapon. Later he got it back out and, as he talked about trust, he swung the gun and it discharged.
Cameron Charlton was killed by the shot.
Though Eldridge had requested Judge Brady reconsider his decision, Eldridge ultimately decided to resolve the case.
Gustin said she will request no jail time for Charlton and Eldridge will make no recommendation.
"He is punishing himself enough," Gustin said. "This is the first step toward ending this nightmare for the family."
At the preliminary hearing, Jonathan Hummell, an eyewitness to the shooting, said Eric Charlton had consumed two glasses of Captain Morgan rum mixed with cola, and the younger boys had also been drinking that night as they sat around the campfire.