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020318 west polk st shooting

Leonardo Navarro, 13, died after his older brother, Fernando Navarro, discharged a firearm in their West Polk Street home Feb. 3 in Santa Maria.

A Santa Maria probationer charged with possession of a firearm and accidentally shooting his younger brother pleaded guilty Thursday and will be sentenced to three years in County Jail. 

Fernando Navarro, 19, faced the following charges: involuntary manslaughter; unlawful firearm possession and four counts of child endangerment stemming from a Feb. 3 incident at the family's West Polk Street home in Santa Maria, where the defendant's younger brother, 13-year-old Leonardo, was fatally shot. 

As part of the plea agreement, Navarro on Thursday pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter, an amended count of misdemeanor possession of a firearm while on probation, as well as probation violation. He also pleaded no contest to a prior misdemeanor for resisting a peace officer on July 24, 2017.

While Navarro was ordered to serve three years of prison time, he will be able to spend it locally at County Jail. Upon his release, Navarro will be placed under mandatory supervision for one year and eight months.  

After accepting his plea, prosecutor Mai Trieu relayed to the court that Navarro's sentence was reached after meeting with his family but did not downplay the seriousness of his offenses.

"We hope he can make better choices upon release," Trieu said, noting that nothing done in court will bring Leonardo back, but having the defendant "serving local custody time gives him a chance to serve [his sentence] close to his family." 

The remaining felony counts were dismissed pursuant to the plea agreement.

After his sentencing, Navarro's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Sara Elturk, released the following statement on behalf of her client: 

"Fernando would like to say he is relieved to have reached an agreement as to his criminal charges so that he may start to put his case behind him and focus solely on the healing process and recovering from this tragic loss of his brother, along with the rest of his family."  

The crux of Navarro's criminal case boiled down to whether or not he was aware that the firearm he was playing with was loaded, when Leonardo walked into the bedroom. According to preliminary hearing testimony back in June, Navarro said he was playing with the gun but his finger caught the trigger and fired a bullet as Leonardo was standing in the doorway. 

Leonardo died Feb. 3 from a gunshot wound to the head. 

When questioned by Santa Maria Police officers, Navarro said he didn't know if the gun was cocked or not, and believed it was empty. He further revealed that he was holding the gun for someone else, and that in the past, his family members urged him to get rid of the gun because there were young children in the family home. 

At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, the defense and prosecution battled over whether or not Navarro was aware the gun was loaded during the time of the incident. 

Navarro's defense attorney argued there was no evidence of intent on his part as he was unaware the gun was loaded. The prosecution argued Navarro knew the gun was dangerous and asked him to get rid of it but that he ignored the requests. 

In August, following the preliminary hearing, Navarro's attorney tried to have the four felony child endangerment charges dismissed against her client. The judge denied the motion, ruling that Navarro was in charge of the four young children at the home at the time of the shooting and that he had assumed the role of caretaker when he called 911 after Leonardo was shot.

Navarro will be sentenced Oct. 4. 

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Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210