Trial ordered for Scripps Ranch man whose loaded gun discharged in garage, killing neighbor boy

Fourth-grader shot while playing with weapon

SAN DIEGO - A Scripps Ranch man whose loaded firearm discharged and mortally wounded a neighbor boy as the fourth-grader and the defendant's 9-year-old daughter played with the weapon in the garage must stand trial on involuntary manslaughter and other felony charges, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Todd Conrad Francis, 56, faces seven years and eight months behind bars if convicted, said Deputy District Attorney Matthew Dix.

San Diego police said 10-year-old Eric Klyaz was handling a 9 mm gun in the defendant's garage at a condominium complex in the 10900 block of Ivy Hill Drive on June 4, along with Francis' 9-year-old daughter, Cierra, when the firerarm went off.

The Dingeman Elementary School student suffered a bullet wound to the chest and died at Rady Children's Hospital a short time later.

Francis' wife, Susan, testified today that she got home around 3:30 p.m. and asked her 15-year-old son, Chad, to watch his younger sister while she ran an errand.

About 20 minutes later, the witness said she got a call from Chad telling her to come back home because police were at the home and someone had been hurt.

Chad Francis testified that he was upstairs on a computer and had no idea that Eric had come over to play with his sister.

The teenager testified that he had seen a large gun case in the garage but had never seen a gun.

Mark Jones testified that he was finishing up fixing a neighbor's garage door about 4:15 p.m. when he heard a shot and saw Cierra running out of the Francis' garage, screaming.

Jones said he saw the motionless victim on the ground and started CPR.

"There was a gun on a sofa," Jones testified.

The witness said a 911 operator told him to remove the gun from the garage, which he did.

"I was concerned when I moved it, because it was cocked," Jones testified.

A San Diego police officer testified that Francis told him that the gun was hidden and was sure it wasn't loaded. Francis told the officer that he should have secured the gun better.

"He said, 'If that kid dies, I don't want to live anymore,'" the officer testified.

Detective Brett Burkett testified that Cierra told him she "might have" fired the gun.

The next day, Burkett said he observed Cierra tell a social worker that she found the gun on a couch in the garage.

"She said, 'We were touching it and it shot. It shot him,'" Burkett said.

Cierra said she had never seen the gun before and wasn't sure if it was real. She said she didn't put bullets in the gun, according to Burkett.

Judge Peter Deddeh said, "This is a horrible, tragic situation; very sad."

Deddeh then ruled that enough evidence was presented at the preliminary hearing for Francis to proceed to trial on the manslaughter charge, as well as child abuse and criminal storage of a firearm.

Defense attorney Danna Cotman unsuccessfully argued that prosecutors failed to produce evidence that Francis was negligent.

Dix countered that Francis left the loaded gun in an area where children were known to play.

"A reasonable person would never do that," the prosecutor said.

A Dec. 5 Superior Court arraignment date was set for Francis, who remains free on $100,000 bail.

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