When Daiscel Tucker drifted off into a late evening slumber while curled up at the foot of her bed in Woodlawn, a 15-year-old boy, home alone in the apartment next door, played with a pistol he found in a dresser. He wanted to see if the gun would fire.
The bullet from a .380-caliber pistol ripped through the apartment wall closet and struck Ms. Tucker, 27, in the chest. She lifted herself off the bed, staggered into her mother's bedroom, whispered that she had been shot and collapsed on the rug.
Yesterday, a Baltimore County District Court judge indicated he did not blame the youth's uncle, who had been taking care of the teen-ager June 27, and imposed the lightest punishment the court could give. The judge placed the blame on the nephew, who wasn't charged, for shooting the gun.
The uncle, Christopher Owens, 21, of 2000 block of Woodlawn Drive had pleaded guilty to making a firearm accessible to a minor. Judge William Murphy sentenced him to probation before judgment.
Mr. Owens, 21, appearing without an attorney, testified that he left the pistol in a dresser drawer, closed his bedroom door and instructed the boy not to touch anything. Mr. Owens said he then left for work.
"The gun was unloaded, your honor," he said. "[The boy] put the magazine in."
A police report filed by Detective Eric Harris said the youth "said he pulled the trigger to see if there were any more bullets left in the gun." The report did not say anything about the youth loading the gun. It was not part of yesterday's court action.
"This sounds like a tragic misadventure," Judge Murphy told Mr. Owens. "My sympathy is with the woman. I don't see how you could have possibly anticipated that he would do something so stupid."
Prosecutor John Tracy told the judge there was no evidence indicating whether Mr. Owens had left the pistol loaded or unloaded.
"Should he have known that the boy would be stupid enough to put in the magazine and shoot it in the closet?" Judge William Murphy asked Mr. Tracy.
The judge's probation before judgment sentence means Mr. Owens is left with an arrest record but no history of a conviction if he doesn't get into any more trouble. The judge also ordered Mr. Owens to pay $100 in court costs. Mr. Owens could have been fined $1,000, but faced no jail time.
Ms. Tucker offered a string of profanities afterward in response to the decision. "See, this is what happens to an innocent person who lays in the bed doing nothing," she said. "They take the side of the criminal."
She said she spent nearly a month in Maryland Shock Trauma Center recovering from the wound. A scar extends from the bottom of her throat to the top of her abdomen, she said, and she may need more surgery.
"My life was almost taken," she said.