BEDFORD - With Cole McConoughey's family and friends filling one side of the courtroom and his alleged shooting victim's parents on the other, a Bedford County judge agreed Friday to transfer the 15-year-old's case to juvenile court.
The victim, 15-year-old Neal Hammond, died at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, Johnstown, hours after the shooting. Police said McConoughey shot his friend in the head as the boys joked and played with a loaded .38-caliber revolver.
McConoughey will face the equivalent of an involuntary manslaughter charge after a 45-day evaluation at a Latrobe juvenile center, Judge Travis Livengood said, as prosecutors prepare to charge a second child and his mother for involvement in the July 19 West Providence Township gun accident.
"It's obviously a very difficult case. A tragedy," Livengood said. "I do commend the victim's family."
Attorneys said Hammond's parents agreed to the juvenile transfer, which would see McConoughey charged with a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
Hammond's family nodded as Livengood asked whether they understood the agreement.
"Everybody's friends here," District Attorney Bill Higgins said as the boys' parents left the courtroom. "This could have been any one of the three."
Police and prosecutors maintained that there was no malice in the shooting. McConoughey - who sat quietly before the court in a striped dress shirt - had allegedly said "Let's play Russian roulette" as he dry-fired a friend's revolver in his basement.
As part of the juvenile trial agreement, McConoughey must agree to the prosecution's statement of facts surrounding the case. If he changes his mind, he can be returned to court and re-charged as an adult.
Higgins said he intends to file juvenile charges soon against the third boy, who brought the gun, and adult charges against his mother, who allegedly gave her teenage son access to the weapon.
The mother, Susan Bonner, 41, of Everett will face charges of reckless endangerment furnishing a firearm to a minor, Higgins said.
"This is a tragic case from both perspectives," McConoughey's defense attorney, Steven Passarello, said Friday.
McConoughey will receive a psychiatric evaluation at Adelphoi Village juvenile center in Latrobe, nearly two hours' drive from his family's Everett-area home, Passarello said.
Livengood noted that youth evaluations can take anywhere from 45 to 60 days before asking McConoughey whether he had any questions on the case.
"I know this can be a confusing thing," Livengood said. "Especially for a 15- year-old."