A 15-year-old boy was found guilty Wednesday of accidentally shooting a classmate to death at Fairfax High School when a gun dropped out of his backpack and discharged.
San Fernando Valley Juvenile Court Judge Morton Rochman found the teen-ager guilty of one count of involuntary manslaughter with the enhancement that a gun was used in the death of Demetrius Rice, 16.
In sustaining a petition against the youth--the equivalent of a finding of guilty in adult court--Rochman also found him guilty of carrying a loaded weapon on school grounds.
Rice was shot through the heart Jan. 21, and another teen-ager, Eliaho (Eli) Kogman, 17, was wounded in his left side. Rice died at the scene and Kogman, who was hospitalized for a few days, has recovered.
The teen-ager, whose name was withheld because of his age, faces a maximum of nine years in a California Youth Authority facility when he is sentenced July 8.
Quietly sobbing outside the courtroom, Rice's mother said that she was pleased with the verdict and that she hopes the teen-ager will be sentenced to the maximum term.
"I think he should do some time and think about what he has done," Mildred Hillard said. "Kids think they can get away with anything these days. This has got to stop somewhere."
Deputy Dist. Atty. Lori Aiu would not disclose what sentence she will seek.
Deputy Public Defender Peter Swarth said he hopes the teen-ager--a ninth-grader at Audubon Junior High who was attending a special winter break class at Fairfax at the time of the shooting--will not be incarcerated.
"He's a good boy who was just caught up in a situation that I or you didn't have to face at his age," Swarth said.
The teen-ager said he brought a Ruger Blackhawk .357-magnum pistol onto the Fairfax campus because he and some friends had been chased by older boys while waiting at a bus stop two days earlier. He said that he had taken the gun from his grandfather's closet and loaded it with bullets he had found on the street about a year earlier.
In a taped-recorded interview with police, the youth said he had reached into his backpack to pull out a notebook when the gun accidentally fell and fired.
When an officer told the teen-ager he did not believe his account, the youth changed it to say that he had been playing with the gun in the backpack and had cocked the hammer. He said he tried to release the hammer without having the gun go off but couldn't. He said the pistol accidentally dropped from the pack onto his desk and went off. But in court Wednesday, the teen-ager said he only changed his story in his interview with police because of the intense questioning.
"It was making me scared," he said. "He wanted me to say what he wanted me to say."
The hollow-point bullet hit Kogman, who was sitting directly in front of the teen-ager, and then Rice, who was walking to his desk.
The youth said that he had never handled a gun before and that he had never carried a gun to school before the day of the incident.
However, a classmate testified that the youth had shown him the gun at school a week before the shooting.
When Swarth asked the youth how he now felt about the incident, the teen-ager said: "I'm pretty upset. A mother lost her son because of a stupid accident I did."
The shooting has prompted random use of metal detectors on Los Angeles Unified School District campuses.