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SKOWHEGAN – State prosecutors and a defense attorney for a teenager both agreed this week that when Cody Rioux, 15, was target-shooting last March, the boy had no idea that the bullet that killed another teenager would go 35 inches lower and 16 inches to the right of where he was aiming.
Joshua Sawyer, 15, of Pittsfield, a standout athlete and well-liked student at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, died at the scene of the March accident from a gunshot wound to the neck.
State ballistics tests on the gun revealed that when Rioux aimed, his shot would have gone wildly off from where he expected it to.
As a result, Rioux pleaded guilty Wednesday in 12th District Court in Skowhegan to manslaughter charges and was spared jail time.
The youth was sentenced instead to 225 hours of community service, which includes speaking about his experience at 10 hunter safety courses to promote firearm safety.
Following the court hearing, Deputy Attorney General William Stokes said that Rioux clearly did not intend to shoot his friend.
According to police reports of the incident, Rioux, Sawyer and Sawyer’s younger brother, Nathan, were target-shooting last March in a cornfield in Norridgewock. Rioux was using a .22-caliber rifle, Joshua Sawyer had a shotgun and Nathan Sawyer, 14, also had a rifle.
Rioux shot Joshua Sawyer, who reportedly was obscured by bushes and trees, in the neck and he died at the scene.
Rioux’s attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta, on Thursday called the incident “a one in a million accident” and said that Rioux couldn’t see Sawyer when he fired the fatal shot.
“This was an unfathomable accident,” he said.McKee said Rioux shot in the direction of Joshua Sawyer, but that he had no idea the other teen was there. The fatal shot was fired from a distance of several hundred feet, McKee said.
He said the case was a “tragic lesson to young people about what happens when you fool around with guns.”
It would have been grossly unfair to send Rioux to a detention facility, McKee said.
“He is a law-abiding, real good kid and he is still struggling with what happened,” the defense attorney said. Rioux’s father, Scott Rioux, was engaged to Sawyer’s mother at the time of the accident.
Rioux pleaded guilty to manslaughter, a Class A crime, before Judge Charles LaVerdiere and received a suspended sentence, under which he could be sent to a youth detention center until he turns 18. An additional charge of aggravated assault was dismissed.
His father, Scott Rioux, 34, also of Norridgewock, pleaded no contest in September to three counts of endangering the welfare of a child and one count of hunting on Sunday because he provided the boys with the ammunition they were using.
He was sentenced to 50 hours of community service, part of which will also be served by speaking at hunter safety courses.