01/25/2012

Pa. cop not guilty in 5-year-old son's death

An Allegheny County judge acquitted a Port Vue police officer of all charges Wednesday related to the accidental death of his 5-year-old son

By Bobby Kerlik
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

PITTSBURGH — An Allegheny County judge acquitted a Port Vue police officer of all charges today related to the accidental death of his 5-year-old son.

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning found John Thompson, 39, of Liberty, not guilty of involuntary manslaughter and other charges stemming from the 2010 death of Gavin Thompson, who inadvertently shot himself with his father's service pistol.

Prosecutors said Thompson carelessly stored the gun in a shelf in a closet that also had snacks and Christmas presents. The boy stood on a chair to retrieve the gun, prosecutors said.

"This case is really about the responsibility of gun ownership," Manning said. "The court finds the facts difficult; a very close edge in that regard. The law requires a much higher standard than pure negligence. There was clearly negligent conduct on your part but the court does not find there to be a crime here."

Thompson, who also works as a police officer in Liberty, hugged his attorney after the verdict. He had tears in eyes through much of the trial.

"This is not a case where you smile and celebrate," said Thompson's attorney, Anthony DeLuca. "The end result is that he's lost his son and it's a tragedy."

Thompson declined to speak with reporters.

Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli, head of the office's homicide unit, said case was tragic but charges were appropriate and have prompted discussions about responsible gun ownership.

"When you're the district attorney, you have to look at this case with blinders. We have no apologies for bringing these charges," Tranquilli said. "We were never out to punish Mr. Thompson or ruin his life."

Tranquilli said gun owners have a responsibility to store weapons safely.

"Guns should not be stored in a place where kids can get their hands on them," he said.

Reprinted with permission from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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