SALEM - A judge will take a closer look at the law being cited to bring a firearms charge against Danville Police Chief Wade Parsons before deciding whether to proceed with the case.
Salem Circuit Court Judge Michael Sullivan met in his chambers with prosecution and defense lawyers during a pretrial conference Monday morning to iron out details of the case against Parsons, who is accused of leaving his Glock 22 .40-caliber handgun on top of a safe inside his Danville home on March 11.
While Parsons was away, authorities say 15-year-old Jacob Carver, the son of Parsons' girlfriend, got his hands on the gun and fatally shot himself.
Rockingham County Attorney James Reams has called the shooting a suicide, but Carver's father has said he feels it was an accident.
Parsons was charged with negligent storage of firearms and has pleaded not guilty to the violation-level offense. If convicted, Parsons could face a fine of up to $1,000.
The case was being prosecuted in Plaistow Circuit Court, but was moved to Salem Circuit Court last month to avoid any conflict with Plaistow Judge Sharon DeVries, who has known Parsons for many years through the handling of Danville's criminal cases.
Following Monday's conference, Judge Sullivan planned to issue an order seeking more information before moving ahead with the case.
Assistant County Attorney Terri Harrington said she plans to file a legislative history with the court containing the transcripts of discussions by legislators who drafted the law being used to prosecute Parsons.
At issue is whether the law, RSA 650-C:1, can be applied in this case.
The statute states, in part: "Any person who stores or leaves on premises under that person's control a loaded firearm, and who knows or reasonably should know that a child (under the age of 16) is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child's parent or guardian, is guilty of a violation if a child gains access to a firearm and the firearm is used in a reckless or threatening manner; the firearm is used during the commission of any misdemeanor or felony; or the firearm is negligently or recklessly discharged."
Harrington said she reviewed the legislative history of the law and feels the law can be used to prosecute Parsons.
"The state's reading is that it applies. The defense reading is that it does not," Harrington said.
Harrington said filing a legislative history is unusual.
"I know the court wants to be sure that they're looking at every possible legal avenue and make sure that they understand the law and how it applies," she said. "Usually when lawyers look at the statute they just look at the plain language of the statute. It's very uncommon to look for the meaning behind it, but because of the nature of the charge and the question of whether or not this applies it's helpful to the court to determine what the legislators were concerned about and what they wanted to accomplish with this statute."
Harrington said she believes the case against Parsons is only the third time the charge has been used since it was passed in 2001. One previous case involved a child in Fremont who accidentally shot and killed his father.
Another case involved a child being injured by a firearm found under a bed or mattress, she said.
The circumstances of those cases were different, she said, adding, "Those two were specifically what we think of as accidents; kids stumbling upon something and bad things happen."
Harrington said defense attorney Alan Cronheim, who could not be reached for comment Monday, plans to file a motion to dismiss the case. A hearing on the motion will be held in February, she said.
The delay will give prosecutors more time to prepare the transcripts for the court to review, Harrington said.