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Teen charged as adult in school shooting

Ridgewood High School student Steven Moschella, 16, faces 15 years in state prison if he is convicted on the manslaughter charge.

The teen accused of killing his best friend with a stolen gun last month at Ridgewood High School was charged as an adult with manslaughter Monday, meaning 16-year-old Steven Moschella could face 15 years in state prison if convicted.

"It's any mom's nightmare for their son to be heading toward adult court," said Keith Hammond, the boy's lawyer, adding he was disappointed but not surprised by the charge. "It's easier to resolve cases in juvenile court, and in the event that something goes wrong, as in a conviction, the penalties are not as severe."

If Moschella had been charged as a juvenile in connection with the shooting, a conviction could have kept him locked up only until his 19th birthday.

Authorities say Moschella shot Teddy Niziol, 16, in the back while they sat in Niziol's truck in the Ridgewood parking lot Jan. 19. Since then, Moschella has remained in juvenile custody without bail, despite his lawyer's plea _ and those of protesters that have rallied to Moschella's side _ to let him go home.

Now, charged as an adult, Moschella will be eligible for bail. Moschella's mother, Pamela Wimmer, said late Monday she had not heard about the filing, and that her son remained in custody. She declined to comment further.

Despite the adult charge, a judge could decide to sentence Moschella as a juvenile or youthful offender.

Calling it a case of culpable negligence, Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis declined to elaborate on the decision to charge Moschella, but said: "After our investigation, we felt that manslaughter was the appropriate charge. I think once the facts come out, you'll see where we're coming from."

During a spate of burglaries in St. Pete Beach, authorities said, Niziol might have stolen the .22-caliber Magnum that later killed him. Hammond, Moschella's attorney, said the shooting was strictly accidental.

"We admit this was a terrible accident," Hammond said. "But the question is, "Do these facts ride to the level of culpable negligence?' And it's our position they do not."'

Culpable negligence, by law, refers to behavior deemed recklessly indifferent to the safety of others, behavior that the defendant should have known would cause harm.

The case has been marked by controversy from the beginning, with Ridgewood students saying the school knew there was a gun on campus and could have prevented the shooting. School officials deny it.