EVERETT — A new trial has been ordered for Richard Peters, the Marysville-area man convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of his 6-year-old daughter, Stormy, in November of 2008.
The Court of Appeals earlier this week overturned his conviction. It held that the trial judge erred in allowing a jury instruction that lowered the burden of proof for prosecutors.
Peters, 45, remains in prison. Prosecutors can ask the appeals court to reconsider its decision or petition the Washington Supreme Court for review.
A jury in 2009 convicted Peters of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm. It found that the Marysville man’s reckless actions caused Stormy’s death. He was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison, the maximum allowed under state guidelines.
He also was charged with second-degree murder but was acquitted of that offense. Jurors weren’t convinced that Peters intentionally pointed a .45-caliber Colt handgun at his daughter to scare her or get her to shut up, as alleged by prosecutors.
The jury agreed that on Nov. 16, 2008, Peters was reckless and deliberately ignored the risks of handling a firearm around his daughter. His disregard for the dangers ended Stormy’s life, jurors decided.
Prosecutors alleged that Peters was drunk on vodka when he had Stormy fetch him the handgun out of his bedroom.
The first-grader was shot between the eyes. She died at a Seattle hospital the next morning.
The Court of Appeals found that Superior Court Judge Michael Downes allowed a jury instruction for first-degree manslaughter that violated Peters’ constitutional rights.
The jury was told that first-degree manslaughter could be proved if Peters knew of and disregarded “a substantial risk that a wrongful act may occur, rather than a substantial risk that death may occur,” according to the written opinion.
“It is not clear beyond a reasonable doubt that the outcome of the trial would have been the same absent the erroneous jury instruction,” said the appellate court decision, which was written by Ann Schindler, the court’s presiding chief judge.
Prosecutors did not immediately return phone calls Friday.
Lila Silverstein, who handled Peters’ appeal, said she argued that the instruction violated her client’s due process rights by “lowering the burden of proof” for proving first-degree manslaughter.
“It’s just very important under our constitution’s due process guarantee that the state’s burden not be lowered,” she said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org.