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Orange County

Trial Begins for Father Who Shot Daughter

Girl testifies about her life since the accidental shotgun blast that maimed her.

October 08, 2003|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

In a tearful testimony, a 9-year-old girl told a court Tuesday that she has learned to ride a bike and tie her shoes with one arm because her father accidentally mutilated her with his new shotgun.

Madison West, who has been in the custody of her mother since the September 2002 incident, spent only a few minutes before the court. Recognizing the girl's reluctance to testify, the judge allowed her to sit with her mother at the prosecutors' table looking only at the bench, rather than sit in the witness box. She did not look at her father as she spoke.

Jeffrey West, 35, of Orange County, is on trial for felony child endangerment and could be sentenced to nine years in prison if convicted.

West, who had just purchased the shotgun, was sitting on the bathroom floor examining the weapon when it fired and struck Madison. The girl was standing a few feet away from her father; the shotgun blast tore away Madison's right arm just above the elbow and severely damaged a kidney.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 09, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 74 words Type of Material: Correction
Shooting trial -- A report in Wednesday's California section of the Orange County Edition on testimony in the trial of a man accused of accidentally maiming his daughter with a shotgun blast incorrectly reported that other guns in the house were unloaded. They were loaded. The story also incorrectly reported that he was sitting on the floor of his bathroom when the gun went off. He was sitting on the edge of the bathtub.

During opening statements Tuesday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Schatzle played the 911 tape in which Jeffrey West's girlfriend, Joanna Berkhan, frantically and repeated asked for help. West is heard screaming in the background that his daughter's "arm is gone."

"What you just heard was the result of choices made by the defendant," Schatzle told the jury of four men and eight women. "The evidence will show [that West] was reckless to gun ownership that resulted in the lost of his daughter's arm."

Though the shooting may have been accidental, "the evidence will show that it was his actions, his reckless disregard, that resulted in criminal negligence," she said.

West kept three other unloaded and unlocked guns in the house and car, Schatzle said.

Defense attorney Robison Harley described the shooting as nothing more than a terrible mishap.

"It was tragic. It was an accident," Harley said. "But it was no crime. There was nothing intentional or willful about it."

West kept guns inside the house for protection, he said. The home recently had been burglarized, he said.

Madison was carried into the courtroom by her mother, Genielle West, who has been divorced from West since before the shooting. Her testimony abruptly ended when she tearfully cried, "I did not want to do this. I want to go home."

Outside the courtroom Jeffrey West, who posted bail soon after his arrest and has spent many hours with his daughter in the hospital, said his daughter's testimony was difficult for both of them.

"She's already gone through pain," West said. "It's making her relive the nightmare. It's undue punishment for her. We wanted to keep her away from all this."

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