Victim’s shooter to avoid jail time

Teenage shooting victim Jesse T. McElhinney’s killer will be spared jail time, relatives and prosecutors said Sunday, in a decision partly influenced by McElhinney’s family’s desire for lenience.

Charges in the apparent gun accident were announced last week: McElhinney’s shooter, a friend now 18 years old, faces involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and theft allegations, among others.

For an adult, such serious charges could lead to prison time – but prosecutors announced last week that the shooter, aged 17 during the Dec. 26 incident, would be charged as a juvenile. That rules out imprisonment; at most, the shooter, whose name has not been released, could be held in a youth detention center.

“Incarceration would not be a possibility,” Blair County Assistant District Attorney Wade Kagarise said, noting that the 16-year-old victim’s family supported a lesser punishment.

Altoona police said the teenagers were playing with a gun brought from the shooter’s home when it fired, killing McElhinney. Details of the theft charge were unclear Sunday, as police said the teen brought the gun from his home.

McElhinney’s grandfather, Dean Sprankle, said Sunday that he planned to appear at court hearings in favor of a lenient punishment for his grandson’s friend.

“You put that kid in jail – what’s that going to do?” Sprankle said. “I can’t see ruining another kid’s life. I mean, it’s already ruined.”

Sprankle said officials at the district attorney’s office assured his family that jail time is no longer a possibility.

Prosecutors told the family that the juvenile charges reflected the need for accountability and legal closure in McElhinney’s death, Sprankle said.

He said he’s accompanied the 18-year-old – who wrote an emotional apology on McElhinney’s Facebook page shortly after the accident – to his grandson’s gravesite.

“We went so he could pay his respects and grieve,” Sprankle said. “If I can do something to save the kid and help the kid, I’ll do it.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.