Washington State boy gets 3.5 years in fatal shooting of sleeping father

The OlympianOctober 12, 2012 

A 14-year-old boy was sentenced Thursday to at least 3½ years in a juvenile corrections facility for fatally shooting his sleeping father last year.

first-degree manslaughter plea deal allows the boy to avoid the first-degree murder charge filed against him after Jimmie Asher Jr.’s Oct. 23 shooting death. It also allows the boy to continue to assert that he shot his father by accident. First-degree manslaughter is defined as “recklessly” causing another’s death.

Asher Jr.’s fiancee, Diane Johnson, called 911 about 11:30 p.m. after waking to find Asher Jr. unresponsive and covered in blood. She had been wearing earplugs, and investigators think she did not hear the single shot from a .17-caliber rifle that was fired into Asher Jr.’s head at close range.

Shortly after the shooting, Asher Jr.’s then-13-year-old son sent a text message to Johnson reading, “If I did anything, I am sorry, and if that’s you out there please don’t hurt me, if it’s not you, there is someone in the house and I grabbed the gun by the front door,” court papers state.

The boy was the only other person in the home, in the 10900 block of Delphi Road. The couple had moved in eight days earlier.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Wayne Graham and the boy’s attorney, Robert Jimerson, jointly recommended that the boy serve 3½ years or until he turns 21, depending on how he responds to treatment. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Anne Hirsch accepted the recommendation.

The boy, slight of build and stature, wore a sweater vest with a button-down shirt and tie in court, his dark hair combed forward. He did not cry but calmly embraced each of his weeping family members before being taken into custody. His voice did not waver. Jimerson read a letter written by his client that addressed the apparent lack of emotion.

“I know it may seem like I don’t care about what happened to my dad,” Jimerson said, reading his client’s letter. “But that is not true. I miss my dad every day. It’s just easier for me to avoid things that make me feel sad.”

Jimmie Asher Jr.’s brother, Bob, spoke before the sentencing about the pain caused by the deaths of his brother, father and daughter within a few years. He also said he thinks the shooting was accidental.

Johnson, who was sleeping when her fiance was shot in the head, said she has unanswered questions. She said she is troubled by the fact that her stepson never apologized to her.

“I lost a son that night,” she said of the shooting. “I wouldn’t say he was like a son to me; he was my son.”

Johnson sat apart from the Asher family with her own grown daughter. Outside court, she spoke of the pain of losing the man she had been dating since 2003. She said every decision in Jimmie Asher Jr.’s life was made with his son’s welfare in mind.

Johnson added that Jimmie’s son was well-behaved and normal, and she has no idea why he acted as he did. She spoke of driving him to and from school and him teaching her to play video games.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Johnson said outside court. “I want to know why, and I don’t think we’ll ever know why.”

Graham reiterated Thursday that the physical evidence, and the boy’s behavior, before and after his father’s death, are not consistent with an accidental shooting. A forensic pathologist’s report states that evidence shows he “had to have been at the bed, leaning over the bed,” and then the trigger was pulled, Graham said.

The boy also gave investigators conflicting statements. First, he said he’d heard a gunshot from his room; then he said the gun accidentally went off while he was standing in the doorway of his father’s bedroom when he went to investigate noises, court papers state. When confronted with the inconsistencies, he said he was on the opposite side of the bed while his father was sleeping when the gun went off, court papers state.

“He stated he didn’t check to see if anyone had been struck, instead, he returned to his room and calls his mother,” court papers state. “When his mother arrived, he jumped out of his bedroom window and went to the car.”

Investigators think at least 39 minutes passed between the time the gunshot that killed Asher Jr. was fired and when aid was summoned.

Four of the boy’s friends from Black Hills High School were at the hearing and said they think the shooting was accidental. They said they’ve visited frequently with the boy during the 363 days he has been in custody, most of it on house arrest with electronic home monitoring. He has been able to leave only to attend a school program at the Thurston County Juvenile Jail.

Chase Morrow, 14, described the boy as “Shy, really nice, good kid, got good grades.”

One of the boys’ mothers, Raechel Kilcup, added that “he’s always been a good kid. He’s very caring and respectful. He’s funny and smart.” She disagreed with investigators’ statements that there was “discord” in the boy’s relationship with his father.

Johnson said she has been in therapy since her fiance’s death, and that she has far too many unanswered questions.

“The only two people that are going to know are God and (the defendant),” she said. “I would like to know why.”

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