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Ricocheting bullet killed Jacksonville teen, forensics consultant says

Amanda Guthrie, 34, faces a list of charges in the shooting death of her teenage daughter, Avya

Amanda Guthrie, 34, faces a list of charges in the shooting death of her teenage daughter, Avya.
Amanda Guthrie, 34, faces a list of charges in the shooting death of her teenage daughter, Avya.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The defense for a Jacksonville mother charged in the shooting death of her 14-year-old daughter filed new court documents this week suggesting the teen’s killing was the result of a ricocheting bullet.

A forensic report commissioned by Amanda Guthrie’s attorney concluded the range and trajectory of the gunshot wound that killed Guthrie’s daughter Avya indicate the bullet caromed off another surface beforehand.

The findings — based on a forensics expert’s review of physical evidence, Guthrie’s statements and police reports — appear to support the defense’s claim that the shooting was unintentional.

“The gun was not pointed at her. It was pointed down toward the ground, and this was a ricochet shot from the ground up that struck and killed Avya,” said attorney Richard Landes, who represents Guthrie.

RELATED: Family of slain teen calls for justice in killing | Mom charged in teen’s shooting ‘surprised’ gun went off

The teen, a freshman at Sandalwood High School, was shot in the right side of the head at her mother’s Arlington home Jan. 19, according to police. She was taken to an area hospital but was pronounced dead the following day.

In an interview, Guthrie told detectives her daughter had picked up a handgun from atop a TV set and was playing with it. She said the weapon discharged while her daughter was handing it over to her.

“Guthrie took the handgun and put her finger on the trigger and pulled it,” an officer noted in Guthrie’s arrest report. “She stated she was surprised when the gun went off.”

Evidence recovered at the home showed there was a round in the chamber but no magazine in the gun at the time.

Guthrie, who was arrested after the shooting, has pleaded not guilty to aggravated manslaughter of a child shooting deadly missiles and armed marijuana possession, all felony charges, according to Duval County court records.

Amanda Guthrie (4th Judicial State Attorney court feed)

She has been released on house arrest while awaiting trial.

Based on the bullet trajectory, firing range and damage to the bullet, crime scene reconstructionist Michael Knox said the evidence doesn’t suggest the gun was pointed at Avya Guthrie.

“The firearm was not directly aimed at (Avya) but was, rather, pointed at the ceramic tile on concrete floor, resulting in a bullet deflection,” Knox wrote in his forensics report.

Among other factors, the report also cited damage to two walls in the bedroom where the shooting occurred and a “possible bullet defect” on the tile floor between the foot of the bed and a nearby dresser.

Landes, Guthrie’s attorney, said those findings vindicate his client, who has maintained her innocence all along. “In my mind, this goes from just an accident to a freak accident,” he said.

Avya’s father, Aaron Begier, isn’t convinced the shooting was accidental. In a previous interview with News4Jax, he said he wants Guthrie to plead guilty and serve time in prison.

“I stand by my interview with you,” Begier told News4Jax on Thursday. “I don’t believe any of this is an accident. And you don’t shoot my daughter in the head on accident — you just don’t.”

In Florida, a gun owner can be charged with culpable negligence if their firearm is left within reach of a child and the child then uses it either to harm themselves or someone else.

But based on the forensic report, Landes said, his client wasn’t negligent. He said while the weapon wasn’t locked away, it wasn’t left out in the open and there was no magazine in the gun.

“A child has a gun in their hand and the parent takes that and there is an accidental discharge — that, to me, is that parent being responsible and not negligent,” Landes said.

Guthrie has a pretrial hearing set for Tuesday. Jury selection is scheduled to begin in November.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.