The state Juvenile Justice Department recommends juvenile sentencing guidelines if a Pasco teen is convicted of shooting a friend.
Juvenile Justice authorities are recommending that the teenager charged with killing his best friend in the parking lot of Ridgewood High School be sentenced as a juvenile, which would dramatically cut his possible time in custody.
Prosecutors have charged 16-year-old Steven Moschella as an adult on a count of manslaughter in the Jan. 19 shooting death of Teddy Niziol, and Moschella has pleaded not guilty. But if Moschella should enter a plea or be found guilty, Circuit Judge Craig C. Villanti has the option to follow the recommendation from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and sentence him as a juvenile.
If he does, Moschella could be held only until his 19th birthday in a juvenile detention facility, as opposed to the 15 years of state prison time he could face if sentenced as an adult.
"The department feels that a juvenile sentence will allow Steven to continue with his education and receive any needed counseling services but will also address accountability for the offense and public safety," said the report by probation officer Katie R. Kalman.
The report, filed last week at the courthouse in New Port Richey, comes a month after the Department of Corrections recommended Moschella serve 18 months in prison on the stated logic that the sentence shouldn't "ruin this young man's future."
The report cites Moschella's mother, Pamela Wimmer, as saying her son has been attending church four times a week since the shooting, and that he has been making exceptional grades while being home-schooled.
Authorities say Moschella shot Niziol in the back while the boys sat in Niziol's truck in the Ridgewood Parking lot. Moschella's lawyer, Keith Hammond, has called the shooting an accident.
On Thursday, Hammond declined to discuss the specifics of the recommendation from the Department of Juvenile Justice. However, he said he favored juvenile sanctions, not only for the lighter penalties but because they prevent the stigma of an adult sentence, which could mar applications for jobs and colleges.
Earlier this week, at a pretrial conference, Villanti expressed concerns that the facts he has seen so far might not support a charge of manslaughter against Moschella. The prosecutor, Mike Halkitis, said he believed he could supply those facts.
_ Christopher Goffard covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is goffardsptimes.com.