State senator cleared in gun case

July 11, 2008 4:47:44 PM PDT
A state senator was acquitted Friday of charges that he lied about a gun used in the apparent suicide of his 14-year-old neighbor. Sen. Robert Regola III had been charged with perjury, reckless endangerment and allowing a minor, his son, to illegally possess the weapon. The freshman lawmaker, who is running for re-election, could have been removed from office had he been found guilty of perjury or the endangerment count - both felonies.

The charges stemmed from the July 2006 death of Regola's neighbor, Louis Farrell, who was found shot to death in woods behind their homes with the senator's 9 mm Taurus pistol nearby.

Prosecutors had argued that Regola was lying when he denied at a coroner's inquest that his son, Bobby, ever kept the gun in his room.

Regola, 45, did not speak after the verdict, but released a statement saying he was pleased.

"I hope that today's verdict will bring some closure to this tragic episode to everyone involved," Regola said in the statement.

Regola's attorney, Charles Porter Jr., said the verdict was "100 percent accurate."

"This has been a tragedy all along and this prosecution continued this tragedy," Porter said.

District Attorney John Peck said he accepted the jury's verdict, but believed the witnesses were credible and the outcome should have been different.

"We tried the best case we could try," Peck said. "I think that the evidence was there. The jury obviously disagreed with my estimation of the case."

Earlier Friday during closing arguments, Porter told jurors that Farrell's death was a tragedy, but that Regola should not be punished criminally for it.

"Don't destroy his life because a tragedy occurred," Porter said. "All tragedies don't require criminal consequences."

Peck had urged the jurors to hold Regola accountable for lies he told during a coroner's inquest that robbed Farrell's parents of clear answers of what happened when the gun killed him.

"If we can't find the truth, we have no hope of justice," Peck said.

The senator's 18-year-old son, Bobby, is serving one year on juvenile probation because he was a minor when he illegally possessed the gun implicated in Farrell's death. The jury wasn't allowed to hear about Bobby's crime.

Peck contended the gun was Bobby's 2003 Christmas present, that Bobby kept it in his room for months or years and that he showed it off to Farrell in 2004.

At the coroner's inquest, Regola testified that he kept the gun in his office before moving to his bedroom weeks before the shooting. State police troopers say Regola had told them the gun was in Bobby's room before it was moved to the master bedroom.

On the day before Farrell's body was found in the woods behind his and Regola's neighboring homes, Farrell had keys to the Regola house so he could feed their dogs. The senator and his wife were out of town and their son was at an amusement park. Bobby Regola told authorities he found the gun missing when he came home late that night.

Bobby Regola called the senator, who has said he then asked his brother to check on the house.

Farrell was found shot to death the next morning.

A coroner determined that Farrell had committed suicide, although his family believes it was an accident and that Bobby Regola knows more about what happened when Farrell was shot than he has admitted.