Tears stream down the face of Eric Charlton, right, who pled guilty to accidentally fatally shooting his brother in the head during a camping trip, as he listens with his attorney, Susanne Gustin, during his sentencing hearing in 4th District Court in Nephi, Utah, on Dec. 20, 2012. Charlton was sentenced to six months in jail. (AP)
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SALT LAKE CITY — A grieving former Marine who accidentally shot and killed his younger brother over a campfire was sentenced Tuesday to 90 days in jail followed by a public-speaking tour.
Eric Charlton, 27, was ordered to talk about the dangers of mixing alcohol and firearms twice a week for 45 weeks, said a court clerk for the 4th District judge in Nephi, about 75 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Judge James Brady spared the veteran of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan a longer jail term after Charlton's family, friends and counselors pleaded for mercy.
His wife of six years, Julianne, said jail would keep him from a 3-year-old daughter, a son born in October and "cause Eric to become locked inside his head."
Charlton was described as inconsolable by more than a dozen people who wrote letters describing a special bond between brothers. They asked the judge to reject prosecutors' requests for a stiffer sentence. The judge previously dismissed a felony manslaughter charge. Charlton was sentenced Tuesday for negligent homicide and handling a weapon while intoxicated, both misdemeanors.
"Eric has been severely broken in his heart and soul," said retired Air Force officer William Glendening, a friend of the Ogden-area family. "He cries over and over that he should not be alive and is a worthless and stupid human being.
"He punishes himself relentlessly," Glendening added. "Every time he closes his eyes he sees horrifying images of his bleeding brother lying on the ground dying. I can't imagine the pain."
Charlton shot his 17-year-old brother last May at a Yuba Lake campground, about 100 miles south of Salt Lake City. However, he disputes prosecutors' account that he deliberately pointed the .45-caliber Colt at Cameron Charlton's head. His defense lawyer maintains he waved the gun over a campfire and it accidentally fired.
"He did not point the gun," lawyer Susanne Gustin told The Associated Press. "That didn't happen. Our expert says he was taking it out of a holster. He hit his brother's shoulder and the gun fired."
Charlton was fined $3,800 and ordered to stay away from alcohol and firearms for two years. He was ordered to report to Juab County jail on Friday.
Charlton has been working for an uncle's landscaping company, attending counseling every week and moved his wife and children to his family home in Hooper, nine miles outside Ogden, relatives and friends say.
"There is nothing the court can impose on him that will come close to his own despair over his brother's loss," reported Debbie Tolton, a social worker at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City. A psychiatrist there said jail would accomplish nothing for his mental health.
Relatives describe Charlton as kind and considerate. He wrote an aunt from Iraq, "These children have nothing," not even shoes. She sent his platoon bags of socks.
Charlton's remorse is "excruciating and heartbreaking" and he is serving a life sentence of pain "every moment," the aunt, Leslie Browning Braegger, wrote the judge. "Isn't that enough?"
At least one friend agreed with Charlton's public-service sentence.
"His story needs to be heard by all," wrote Charyl Polk-Jackson, a family friend from Kaysville. "It was an accident that can be learned from."