By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
MARYSVILLE — The state Court of Appeals has upheld the manslaughter conviction of a Marysville-area man who fatally shot his 6-year-old daughter after a day of drinking.
For a second time, Richard Peters asked the appellate court to overturn a jury’s verdict. A drunken Peters shot his daughter Stormy in the forehead in 2008 after he told her to bring him his gun. The first-grader died later that night at Children’s Hospital Seattle.
Peters’ wife and two other children, 3 and 8, also were home at the time of the shooting.
Peters maintained that the gunfire was accidental, saying he didn’t know the weapon was loaded.
The Boeing worker was tried for murder in 2009. Prosecutors alleged that Peters intentionally pointed a .45-caliber Colt handgun at his daughter to scare her or get her to shut up. Jurors acquitted Peters of murder but convicted him of first-degree manslaughter, finding that his reckless actions caused Stormy’s death. Peters was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison, the maximum allowed under state guidelines.
The state Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in 2011. It held that the trial judge erred in allowing a jury instruction that lowered the burden of proof for prosecutors.
Peters was retried last year and convicted of second-degree manslaughter with a firearm. Jurors acquitted him of the more serious charge of first-degree manslaughter, concluding that Peters was negligent, not reckless.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Joseph Wilson sentenced Peters to five years and three months in prison, the maximum sentence under the law. Peters already had served about 4½ years behind bars. He was released from prison in May 2013, about a month after Wilson handed down the sentence.
Peters once again asked the state Court of Appeals to overturn his conviction. This time he argued that jurors should not have been told about the 16 guns seized from his home or shown pictures of the firearms and ammunition. Peters argued that Wilson improperly burdened his constitutional right to bear arms when he admitted evidence of guns not actually used in the shooting.
Peters also said the jury shouldn’t have heard from witnesses who testified that Peters had mishandled and unsafely stored firearms in the past.
In its opinion, the appellate court agreed that Peters then had a right to own guns, and that prosecutors cannot use “the fact of gun ownership to draw adverse inferences regarding the defendant’s character.”
However, his cache of guns was relevant to the case and therefore admissable, according to the court’s opinion released earlier this week.
“Evidence of Peters’ ownership of guns and the manner in which he used and stored them was relevant to prove that Peters had knowledge of a substantial risk that his actions may cause the death to occur and that he intentionally disregarded that risk,” the court wrote.
The evidence was essential to prove the element of the crime, the court concluded.
The same reasoning was applied to testimony allowed from one man who testified that Peters had pointed a loaded gun at him and that he’d seen Peters leave a loaded rifle propped against a wall in the house, where the children could reach it. The man testified that he criticized Peters for how he handled guns. Another man testified that two weeks before Stormy was killed Peters accidentally discharged a shotgun at a pumpkin shoot. Peters testified that he wasn’t aware the gun was loaded and failed to check it.
The court found that Wilson did not err in allowing both men’s testimony. It was evidence Peters had been “forewarned of the obvious risk associated with keeping unsecured guns in the reach of children and pointing guns at people whom he did not intend to kill,” the court ruled.
As a convicted felon, Peters is now prohibited from having in his control or owning any guns.