A 12-year-old boy accused of fatally shooting a friend in a City of Orange mall jammed with Christmas shoppers was charged with involuntary manslaughter Wednesday and ordered held without bail.
The Orange County public defender appointed to represent Juan Manuel Cardenas entered a plea of innocent, but did not object to a prosecution request to keep Juan in county Juvenile Hall.
Juan has slept little since the shooting Monday and keeps waking up in fits of "incredible horror at what he's done," said his lawyer, Orange County Deputy Public Defender Chris Hilger. "When I talk to him, I get the feeling he's only half there."
"He knows what he did. He knows he's responsible," Hilger added. "At least he's struggling with that right now."
Friends of Juan said the boy had been showing off a .25-caliber pistol and its bullets for weeks. Minutes before the shooting, he allegedly held it to the temple of another girl, Keli Edwards. Then he pointed the weapon at Jacalyn Calabrese, 12, who dared him to pull the trigger, police say.
Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. John Conley said the involuntary manslaughter charge was selected because the horseplay with a loaded gun, even for a 12-year-old, was criminally negligent. Juan was also charged with assault with a deadly weapon for pointing the gun at Keli, and with using a gun to commit a felony.
Juan was kept in handcuffs during the hearing. He answered yes or no in a hoarse voice to the judge's questions.
Orange County Superior Court Judge C. Robert Jameson told Juan that the three charges carry a total maximum sentence of 10 years. But both prosecution and defense attorneys said the boy is so young that it is impossible to predict what his punishment will be if he is found guilty. The case will be tried by a Superior Court judge assigned to the juvenile division, without a jury.
The victim's father, Al Calabrese, said he has forgiven his daughter's killer. "How do you punish stupidity?" he said.
Authorities have declined to say where the boy got the gun. But Calabrese said it is the gun owner who should be blamed for his daughter's death.