Accidental Shooting Results in Light Sentence and Outrage from Victim’s Family
September 22, 2022 Don Pumphrey, Jr. Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes Social Share
Manslaughter is the killing of another human being without malicious intent. Although it is not as severe as a murder charge, getting accused of manslaughter can still come with harsh penalties.
A recent case in Florida shows the dangers of playing with firearms, and the outcome of the defendant’s trial which ended with a much lighter sentence than the victim’s family hoped for.
What was the Incident?
On May 18th, 2020, Michael McGowan was arrested after accidentally shooting a 17-year-old girl at an Airbnb in Miami. The group of friends were at a party where the gun started to get passed around. Suddenly the gun went off and shot Giselle “Gigi” Rengifo in the head.
When police arrived at the scene, they found Rengifo on the ground with a gunshot wound to the head. There was a black handgun and magazine on top of a desk close to the house’s front door.
According to the report, McGowan confessed to holding the gun when it accidentally discharged. All four individuals who were inside the house corroborated the suspect’s statement. McGowan was arrested the day after the shooting and charged with manslaughter. He was only 17 at the time of the accidental shooting.
The trial for the manslaughter case took place this last week. The defense team pointed out that their client had always admitted to pulling the trigger, but always maintained that it was an accident. They also referred to McGowan’s age at the time of the incident, which was only 17.
“This was the result of an accident,” defense attorney Jude Faccidomo said. “Everyone in the room handled that gun. Everyone in the room, including the deceased, Your Honor, was reckless with that gun.”
The prosecution team argued that age is not a valid excuse in this case. “He’s not a child. He’s not 10, he’s not 11, he’s not 12,” said prosecutor Michael Spivak. “He’s not even 15; he was almost 18 years old. If you want Giselle’s life to have meaning, judge, you have to send him to prison.”
On Thursday, September 15th, 2022, the judge sentenced McGowan to only 364 days in Dade County Jail for the manslaughter charge. If the defendant was charged as an adult, the crime could have carried the weight of 30 years in prison. In addition, he will be on probation for four years and have to attend a county boot camp program. McGowan will also be required to visit local high schools and share his story of what happens when messing around with a loaded weapon.
The judge also included time already served, which means that McGowan will be released sometime within the next month.
Sentencing Results in Heated Altercation
The victim’s family was outraged at the judge’s sentencing. Emotions ran high, and several family members started to shout and dispute the sentence. “No, this is disrespectful. Stop, stop!” the judge said.
Rengifo’s mother pointed at McGowan and started crying out, “I can’t hear her calling me ‘Mommy’ anymore. ‘Mom, I love you, Mom, Mom!’ You took that from me,” she said through tears.
In a video posted from outside the courtroom, Rengifo’s brother is shown being escorted out by several police officers. One of the officers grabbed the brother’s neck, and another officer is heard telling the other police officer to let go. Eventually the two get separated and Rengifo’s family left the courthouse.
After the sentence was announced, Giselle’s older sister, Salome Jackson—also referred to as Betty Idol from the VH-1 reality show Cartel Crew—posted the video on her Instagram page, saying that her family wanted to make sure justice was served. “You don’t just hold a gun to someone’s head and pull the trigger and call it an accident,” Jackson said.
The following is the statement shared on Jackson’s Instagram account, along with the video of her brother’s altercation with the officers:
“This is what you call Justice here in America? This judge gave this man who killed my sister a few months of “BOOTCAMP” and “PROBATION.” 2 years of torture! Playing with my family. Letting us beg in court to give this man years and they gave him NOTHING! Then for this one particular cop that had it in for my brother came and choked him grabbing his neck then had the f*ckin audacity to reach for his weapon. TF was y’all gonna do?”
Catherine Jackson, the victim’s mother, gave a statement on Friday after the sentence was announced. “We as the Rengifo family feel and know that the verdict was wrong on every level,” she said. “We feel cheated by the system, we feel cheated by the court, and we feel cheated by the judge.”
Jackson continued to argue that her family provided evidence in the trial to prove that McGowan pulling the trigger was not an accident. However, none of the witnesses were called to testify to back her accusations.
The following is the rest of the statement from Catherine Jackson:
“How can the judge give someone boot camp, time served, and probation, when Michael McGowan pointed a gun at our daughter’s head knowing there was a bullet in the chamber and then pulled the trigger? The judge sentenced him as a youthful offender, gave him a slap on the wrist, and then rewarded him by making him go to schools to talk to the youth as if he’s a hero…This is insanity. This was no accident. This is a slap in the face. There was no justice served!”
Manslaughter Charges in Florida
Florida Statute Section 782.07 defines manslaughter as the killing of a person by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another without lawful justification pursuant to section 776, and cases wherein the killing cannot be deemed excusable homicide or murder.
Getting charged with manslaughter can result in a second-degree felony. The penalties for a second-degree felony include up to a $10,000 fine and up to 15 years in prison. The mandatory minimum for manslaughter is 9.25 years in prison.
The charges are more extreme if the victim was an elderly person, a minor under the age of 18, or if it was a disabled adult. This would be considered aggravated manslaughter, which can result in a first-degree felony. The penalties for a first-degree penalty include up to a $10,000 fine and up to 30 years in prison.
Additionally, there are sentence enhancements for crimes involving firearms. For manslaughter with a weapon or firearm, a conviction can result in a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison, thirty years pf probation, and a $10,000 fine. The mandatory minimum sentence for manslaughter with a weapon is 10.3 years in prison and the mandatory minimum sentence for manslaughter with a. firearm is 11.5 years in prison.
To find out more about manslaughter charges in Florida, read our page here.
Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida
If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, your first step should be reaching out to a skilled Florida criminal defense attorney in your area. It can be difficult to navigate the legal world without expert advice. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience representing clients across the state of Florida for various charges. We vow to stand by your side throughout the entire legal process and build a strong defense for your case. Call us today for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave us an online message on our website.
Written by Karissa Key