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Police chief, club indicted in boy's Uzi death

A police chief and a gun club in western Massachusetts were indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter in the death of an 8-year-old boy who accidentally shot himself.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Three men, including a small-town police chief, were indicted Thursday on involuntary manslaughter counts in the gun-fair death of an 8-year-old who accidentally shot himself in the head with an Uzi that a prosecutor said he never should have been allowed to handle.

The club where the fair was held also was charged. The fair had promised shooters would have certified instructors in an advertisement, but District Attorney William Bennett said the child, Christopher Bizilj, was supervised by an uncertified 15-year-old boy.

Bizilj, of Connecticut, lost control of the 9mm micro submachine gun as it recoiled while he was firing at a pumpkin Oct. 26 at a Firearms Expo in Massachusetts.

Pelham Police Chief Edward Fleury was charged because he owns the company that sponsors the gun fair. Two other men who brought the automatic weapon to the show also were indicted.

Micro Uzi 'not a hunting weapon'
An involuntary manslaughter conviction carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence, but the term could be five years or less for someone with no prior convictions.

Fleury and the club also were indicted on four counts each of furnishing a machine gun to a minor. A conviction on each count is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, up to $10,000 in fines and the loss of a firearms license for at least 10 years.

Bennett said prosecutors know of at least four children, including Bizilj, who fired automatic weapons at the fair. He added that Fleury had wrongly assured Guiffre and Spano that it was legal for children to use the Uzi under Massachusetts law.

"A Micro Uzi is made by and for the Israeli Armed Forces and is intended to meet the operational needs of Israeli Special Forces," Bennett said, noting the weapon has a rate of fire of 1,700 rounds per minute. "It is not a hunting weapon."

Club's attorney denies wrongdoing
Thomas Drechsler, an attorney for the club, said it continues to extend its "deepest sympathy" to the Bizilj family, but denies any wrongdoing. He said neither the club nor any member gave the Uzi to Bizilj or any children, and weren't in the immediate area when the accident happened.

"The club is disappointed by the indictment," he said. "The club's intention is to plead not guilty and the club denies they participated in any criminal act."

Fleury, Guiffre and Spano did not immediately return calls for comment.

The machine gun shoot drew hundreds of people to the sporting club's 375-acre compound. An advertisement said it would include machine gun demonstrations and rentals and free handgun lessons.

The ad also said children under 16 would be admitted free, and both adults and children were offered free .22-caliber pistol and rifle shooting.

Christopher's father was 10 feet behind him and reaching for his camera when the child fired the weapon.

Thought compact weapon was safer
Bennett said Charles Bizilj had selected the compact weapon for his 4-foot, 66-pound on to fire after he was assured it was safe. He had thought the Uzi's small size made it safer, but the opposite was true, the prosecutor said.

"Although it might appear a heavier or longer weapon would be more dangerous, the small size of the weapon together with the rapid rate of fire made it more likely that an 8-year-old would lose control and the muzzle of the weapon would come close to his face, which is what happened here," he said.

The father was not charged because he was a layman and based his decision on information from others who should have known it was too dangerous, Bennett said. The 15-year-old boy who was supervising Christopher with the Uzi also will not be charged, he added.

Christopher's family did not immediately return a call seeking comment. His father has said his son had experience firing handguns and rifles but the gun show was his first time with an automatic weapon.