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Clearwater man gets 10 years for shooting at toddler 'in jest'

LARGO — A 23-year-old Clearwater man was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in prison because he aimed a shotgun at his 20-month-old daughter "in jest" and pulled the trigger.

Justin Gallagher apparently thought the shotgun was unloaded when he aimed it at his daughter, police said in October. His daughter lost more than half of her ear after the blast but survived.

Gallagher was not supposed to have a weapon at all, because he is a felon.

Janet Pettyjohn, the grandmother of Gallagher's wife, said the incident was devastating for the entire family. She said Gallagher "absolutely loved" his daughter and never meant to hurt her.

Still, she said, it was "stupidity" for him to have a gun under the circumstances. Asked if there was a message to arise from the case, she said, "the only message that comes out is do what you're told to do. The guns should be locked up and away."

Gun safety experts say never to point firearms at people, even if you think the gun is unloaded.

The prison sentence was part of an agreement worked out with prosecutors. Gallagher pleaded guilty to aggravated child abuse and being a felon in possession of a firearm, reduced from the previous charge of attempted felony murder.

Defense attorney Frank Louderback said the plea agreement was fair, especially considering that Gallagher could have faced up to life in prison.

Pettyjohn said Gallagher's daughter is "a very intelligent little baby girl."

A version of this story appears in some regional editions of the Times

Clearwater man gets 10 years for shooting at toddler 'in jest' 09/20/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 10:45pm]
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