Julio Segura died of a gunshot wound to the head, but the root cause of the 3-year-old’s death was carelessness.
On Monday, his mother, 23-year-old Jahnisha McIntosh, admitted as much in Pierce County Superior Court.
The Tacoma woman pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the death of her son, who shot himself with a 9mm pistol after being left alone in a car with the loaded weapon in March 2012.
A sobbing McIntosh told Judge James Orlando that she lives with the pain of that one careless moment every day.
“It’s hard for me to find the right words,” she told Orlando after her plea. “I would give anything to hold him and hear him say, ‘Mommy.’”
McIntosh’s remorse and work to straighten out her life in the wake of Julio’s death led to an unusual sentencing recommendation from prosecutors: No more time incarcerated. The standard range was one year, nine months to two years, three months in prison.
Deputy prosecutor Steve Penner said outside court he didn’t see the use of sending McIntosh away and argued for a downward departure to zero time.
“She deserved to be convicted of manslaughter,” Penner said. “But we didn’t think time in prison would serve any purpose for her.”
Defense attorney Mark Quigley agreed.
“She herself is a victim,” Quigley told Orlando in court. “She’s going to live with this for the rest of her life.”
The defense attorney added that McIntosh has regained custody of her young daughter, who was taken by Child Protective Services after Julio’s death, and is working a part-time job. She also had no prior criminal record, he said.
Orlando went along with the recommendation, sentencing McIntosh to the two days she’d already served in jail.
“I know this has been a terrible blow to you and your family,” the judge said.
He went on to lament that some gun owners aren’t more careful with their weapons, especially when children are around.
“Young children have an incredible curiosity, and if that curiosity is going to lead them to handle weapons, there is a horrific price that’s paid, often times to them or to people who don’t deserve that,” Orlando said.
Julio got hold of the gun after McIntosh and her friend, Eric Vita, 24, stopped for gas at a station on Tacoma Mall Boulevard in the early-morning hours of March 14.
Vita, the passenger, got out to pump the gas, court records show. McIntosh asked him to go into the store to see if he could buy a bottle for McIntosh’s baby daughter, who also was with them. They’d apparently left home without a bottle.
Vita was licensed to carry a firearm and had his 9mm pistol with him. He tucked it under the front passenger seat before getting out of the car, the records show. At some point, McIntosh moved the gun to under the driver’s seat. She then got out of the car and went into the store as Vita was pumping the gas, the records show.
That’s when Julio got out of his car seat, retrieved the weapon and shot himself. No one else was injured.
Prosecutors charged Vita and McIntosh with second-degree manslaughter, saying they were negligent when they left the boy alone in the car with a loaded weapon.
Orlando dismissed the charge against Vita in July, ruling he wasn’t negligent when he left the gun in the car because McIntosh was still inside the car. The case against McIntosh went forward.
“The reason there is criminal responsibility for these acts is that if you had exercised reasonable care, which is to secure the weapon entirely from your son you wouldn’t be seated here today,” Orlando said Monday.Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644 adam.lynn@ thenewstribune.com