A Circuit Court judge sentenced a 19-year-old Howard County man to 18 months in jail - with all but 11 weeks suspended - for accidentally shooting a teenage schoolmate with a handgun last year after taking it from his father's locked safe.
Benjamin M. Allen of the 900 block of Iron Rail Court in Woodbine also was sentenced by visiting Judge Daniel Moylan to 73 days of home detention, three years of probation and 3,000 hours of community service.
Allen broke down briefly during a short, but rushed, statement in which he said that he regretted his "lapse in judgment."
Moylan told him that his actions "didn't make any sense at all" and that he could have pointed the gun in numerous directions other than at Katie Lea Weyer, then 16, who was over to swim in his family's pool.
According to court testimony, Weyer had gone into the bathroom to change clothes. As she emerged, she saw that Allen and another teen had retrieved the gun to shoot a failed homemade explosive device. Weyer testified that she told Allen that he shouldn't play with guns, and that he jokingly replied, "Oh, really?"
Allen told police that he wasn't aiming at Weyer and didn't know the gun was loaded when he fired from about seven feet away. She was standing in the doorway.
The shrapnel, pieces of which are still lodged in her chest, paralyzed one side of her diaphragm and permanently deepened her voice.
In reading a 19-page, typed impact statement, Weyer, who graduated from Glenelg High School this month, dabbed tears from her eyes as she described the humiliating nature and pain of her medical treatment - catheters, ventilators, feeding tubes, and tape that air-locked necessary tubes to her chest and caused blisters.
She also spoke with bitterness that Allen had not called or written to apologize.
"If that bullet had traveled just a half-inch further, Katie would be paralyzed, or she may not be here," Moylan said. "This accident should have never happened, but the reason it happened is that you broke the law."
As the judge meted out the sentence for reckless endangerment, members of both families cried - one with grief, the other with relief.
"I prayed to God that he would give us a wise judge, and I thank God that he did," said Susan Weyer, Katie's mother, after the hearing.
The family also is pursuing monetary damages in a civil lawsuit.
Gary W. Wiessner, Allen's attorney, asked the judge not to jail Allen, who turned 18 two months before the July 6 shooting.
Allen's mother and a neighbor testified that the incident had turned him into a recluse and led him to pass up an opportunity to attend pilot training school after graduation.
"I don't know what jail time would do to his psyche," Wiessner told the judge. "He's never been in trouble before."
Allen's mother testified that not a day goes by when she doesn't pray for the Weyer family, and that her own daughter went through a medical crisis during the past year.
"Many nights I have done the same as you," Coral L. Allen said of her time caring for her hospitalized daughter. "If we hadn't met under these circumstances, you would find that our families are a lot alike."