SANTA ANA — Despite having pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, Richard H. Bourassa Jr. maintained Wednesday that he accidentally shot a friend to death, and that he said otherwise in court only in hope of winning time at the California Youth Authority instead of prison.
In an hourlong interview at the Orange County Jail, Bourassa, 18, told The Times he is not guilty of murder.
"Not at all," he said firmly.
"The reason I made the plea . . . the judge was letting in stuff that shouldn't be let in," most notably evidence of a hauntingly similar 1986 shooting in which Bourassa shot and killed another friend in the same Anaheim Hills home.
Two days ago Bourassa tearfully told a judge he had deliberately aimed a gun at 17-year-old Christian Wiedepuhl last May 24 and pulled the trigger, knowing death was a possible result.
"That's what I had to say. . . . It wasn't too easy for me to do in court," Bourassa said. "My lawyer explained to me (that) if you're on a battleship and you take a hit, you want to seal off all the rooms if you can, and maybe this way, take less damage. I've been thinking about this for months."
Bourassa had not told the court why he intentionally aimed the gun at his friend, but his attorney explained later that Bourassa was "upset" because Christian had allegedly pointed the loaded, .38-caliber pistol at him first.
Although Bourassa's plea was accepted without promise of a lighter sentence, the former Canyon High School wrestler said Wednesday that he is hoping for a seven-year term at a youth facility. He will undergo a psychological examination to determine whether he should be sentenced to a youth facility, state prison or a combination of both.
In a wide-ranging talk Wednesday morning, Bourassa said he misses Christian, who was mortally wounded by a bullet to the head in an upstairs office of the Bourassa home. It was the same room in which Bourassa, then 13, shot and killed Jeffrey A. Bush on Sept. 12, 1986, as the two boys played with guns. Authorities concluded that shooting was an accident.
"I'm hurt, sad," Bourassa said of his case. "I think I've been treated unfairly by the court system."
He believes his stepfather, Thomas J. Baldwin, should have destroyed his guns after "the first incident." He said that "friends of the family offered to take them and put them in a secure area," but that Baldwin declined.
Despite his mother's insistence that the guns be locked in a cabinet, Bourassa said, Baldwin has refused to do so.
"He offered now to put trigger locks on them," Bourassa said. "He feels very strongly" and "sentimental" about the weapons because they were gifts from Baldwin's grandparents.
Prosecutors had accused Bourassa of shooting Christian while acting out a form of Russian roulette. In his plea, however, Bourassa stated only that he knowingly pointed a loaded, .38-caliber handgun at his friend and pulled the trigger.
On Wednesday, Bourassa described Christian's shooting much as he had in videotaped interviews with Anaheim police in the hours and days after his fellow Canyon High School student was killed. He said Christian had come over after school and they had watched television, then played Nintendo games.
Christian grew bored and asked to look at Baldwin's extensive ham radio set, but instead found and pulled out the pistol, Bourassa said. Bourassa admitted that Christian knew where it was stored--in the headboard of his parents' bed--because he had previously shown it to him and other friends.
"But when I showed him, I was very careful what I did," he said.
Christian "had the gun; he said it was unloaded," Bourassa said. "I'm not stupid; I could see it was loaded. I'm scared of loaded guns."
According to Bourassa, the pair argued after Bourassa demanded that Christian relinquish the pistol. After Bourassa took it from Christian, he said his friend knelt to the carpet to pick up a holster "and it went off."
Authorities have portrayed Bourassa as a troubled, gun-obsessed teen-ager, and several classmates testified last fall that he had pointed guns at them, in the words of one, while "fooling around."
In interviews with police, Bourassa insisted that he was unfamiliar with weapons but said Wednesday that "I did show" two friends "the rifles" owned by his stepfather. As a result of his friends' testimony, he said, he realizes many view him as a twisted killer.
"But a lot of teen-agers had guns," he said, including most of those same friends who spent afternoons shooting at cows in the forestlike landscape outside Anaheim Hills.
After fatally shooting someone, how could he ever pick up a gun again?
"You could say curiosity," Bourassa replied. "I was very careful, very careful." He said his stepfather "offered to teach me about them after the first incident, but I didn't want to know. . . . For a while, I couldn't even face one."