A jury on Tuesday acquitted Ralph Moritz of involuntary manslaughter in the July 18 shooting death of a 10-year-boy in a National City playground of an apartment complex.
The San Diego Superior Court jury deliberated less than one day before finding Petty Officer 3rd Class Moritz, 26, not guilty of the charge in the death of Clark Key, who lived near Moritz's apartment.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen Anear had argued Monday that Moritz deliberatedly aimed at the boy with a rifle purchased the day before by his roommate.
Moritz testified that he didn't know the gun was loaded when he picked it up and pointed it out the window. Moritz said the gun went off when he turned around to talk to his roommate.
Anear said Moritz's "wanton disregard for human life" led officials to originally charge Moritz with murder. However, that charge was dismissed Oct. 15 by another judge and involuntary manslaughter was substituted.
His friends and mother exclaimed expressions of joy after the verdict was announced and Judge Raul Rosado ordered them to be quiet.
Moritz came to court every day dressed in his Navy uniform and testified that the shooting was accidental.
"I couldn't see why he (roommate Mark Smith) would have loaded it. I didn't point it at the direction of the playground," Moritz testified. "The whole thing happened in less than a minute."
After the verdict, Moritz said, "Nobody feels worse about it than I do."
The dead boy's mother, Myong Key, had testified at the trial through a Korean interpreter, but she and her husband, Richard, also in the military, were not in the courtroom to hear the verdict.
Anear had told the jury that Moritz was guilty of "culpable negligence." Ballistics experts' testimony proved, Anear claimed, that Moritz had aimed at the boy.