No manslaughter charge for distraught Olivehurst cousin
Calling it a "pure accident," Yuba County prosecutors declined to file an involuntary manslaughter charge Friday against an Olivehurst man arrested this week for the inadvertent shooting death of his cousin.
However, Bryan Benningfield will face felony charges of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and being a convicted felon in possession of ammunition as a result of the death on Wednesday of Michael Callison.
"Sadly, it's a very tragic situation that could've been avoided had Mr. Benningfield never handled the weapon," Yuba County District Attorney Pat McGrath said.
Callison, 35, died shortly after he was accidentally shot in the neck while he and Benningfield were cleaning out a family member's garage in the 4200 block of Rose Avenue.
Investigators said Benningfield, 39, was handling a loaded .22-caliber gun that had apparently been stored for some time in the garage .
Benningfield, who has several prior felony convictions that prevent him from legally touching firearms, was arrested a short time later.
With tears streaming down his face and his shoulders heaving, the Olivehurst man could barely speak to answer questions from Judge Julia Scrogin during his arraignment.
Saying she was "highly concerned" that Benningfield would harm himself if left unsupervised, the judge declined to release him from jail.
Public defender Benjamin Wirtschafter was appointed to represent Benningfield and entered not guilty pleas on his client's behalf.
Wirtschafter indicated the case could possibly be settled as soon as Monday. The veteran defense attorney declined comment following Friday's court proceedings as did several of Benningfield's friends and family members.
However, one man said information printed in the Appeal-Democrat on Thursday that Benningfield had a prior misdemeanor drug conviction in 2011 was incorrect.
Friends said that conviction belongs to another family member with the exact same name as Benningfield. The information provided on the 2011 conviction could not be confirmed Friday, though prosecutors said Benningfield's last conviction was in 2008.
Those close to the family have called for Benningfield's release, saying there was obviously no intent to harm Callison, who was not only Benningfield's cousin, but also his close friend.
Prosecutors and investigators agree there was no criminal intent, but have said Benningfield broke the law when he allegedly touched the firearm.
"It is a status offense in the sense that he's an ex-con that shouldn't have touched (the gun)," McGrath said.
Benningfield first claimed he didn't realize he was handling a firearm, according to a probable cause statement filed in court.
"But he made further statements to investigators that made it pretty clear the item was easily identified as a gun," McGrath said.
Benningfield remained in custody Friday night with bail set at $50,000. He is due back in court Monday.
CONTACT Rob Parsons at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4785. Find him on Facebook at /ADcrimebeat or on Twitter at @ADcrimebeat.