Kelso 13-year-old Dawson Dunn was sentenced to five months in juvenile custody and 60 hours of community service Friday for the Oct. 14 accidental shooting death of his friend, Edgar Vazquez.
“You have demonstrated ... sorrow and remorse, but there are consequences to behaviors. But my hope is for you that this tragic event will not send you down a negative road, that you will learn from it, that you will move forward with your life,” Judge Marilyn Haan told Dunn at the end of a nearly three-hour hearing.
Dunn’s lawyer, Dan Morgan, said he will appeal his client’s conviction.
Haan, on April 26, found Dunn guilty of second-degree manslaughter after a three-day trial featuring testimony from family, police, emergency personnel and Dunn himself. Dunn shot Vazquez in his grandparents’ home and said he thought the shotgun was unloaded.
Friday’s sentencing hearing was the first time either family has spoken publicly since Vazquez’s death, and they gave long, tearful expressions of grief and sometimes anger.
“Edgar was killed on my 61st birthday. … Now my birthday is an anniversary of my precious grandson Edgar’s death,” said his grandmother, Teresa Hansen. “That date will no longer be a celebration. It will be a reminder of the greatest tragedy of my life. … Since his death, I’m having anxiety attacks at night. I’m afraid to go to sleep.”
Through a court interpreter, Vazquez’s father, Hilario Vazquez, directed a question at Dunn: “I would like to know why he did this. What did my son do to deserve to be shot at? Did he invite (Edgar) to his house just for that? He does not realize the pain that I feel. He does not realize the pain that my family feels because of what he’s done. I would like him to admit that he did it, that he meant to do it, that’s what I’d like to hear.”
Guadalupe Vazquez, Vazquez’s sister, said she has started sleeping in his room.
“I like dreaming about him because I get to see him again,” she said.
She was also angry at Dunn. “I don’t want to go to school with him or watch him go on with his life when Edgar is gone. … I’m worried Dawson will try to work the system as he has already done by lying.”
Vazquez’s mother, Nicole Vazquez, echoed her daughter’s sentiments. “I do not want to have contact with Dawson and his family over the next few years. I’m still angry … I’m angry about losing my own son. … I’m angry that my other children are suffering. … I’m angry that I hardly see my husband smile anymore,” she said.
“I thank God for the 13 precious years we did have with Edgar, but I grieve the life he was denied by Dawson Dunn,” she added.
Dunn’s mother, Erica Dunn, said her son and Vazquez were inseparable, and Vazquez’s death has been a tragedy for her family, too.
“We have enjoyed having Edgar as a part of our family,” she said, wiping away tears.
“A day has not gone by where we don’t think of Edgar and his family. He was a great kid. He brought joy and laughter to our lives. Edgar is the greatest friend (who) always will have a special place in our hearts.”
She said her son has “been having a very difficult time the last seven months … Dawson has not left my side except for a few times to stay with a trusted adult.”
He’s had to attend school online and has struggled with it.
“Dawson has been depressed. He struggles with everyday things. He cannot sleep at night. … He talks in his sleep and screams Edgar’s name. … I try to keep him busy. … He’s so emotional.”
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She said the incident was an accident and asked the court to focus on getting her son the help he needs to cope with the tragedy.
With a tissue in hand, Dunn also fought back tears as he addressed the court. “I will never forget my best friend. … I am so sorry that Edgar died that day, and I will never forgive myself.”
Dunn was arrested Nov. 20 on suspicion of first-degree manslaughter. During the trial, he said he thought he had emptied the gun and wasn’t aiming at anything in particular when it went off. Dunn also said he pulled the gun’s lever back to make sure it was unloaded and had started to “mess around” with it when the weapon went off.
Vazquez was shot in the face, neck and upper chest area in the living room of Dunn’s grandparents home on Oct. 14. Dunn had fired from the master bedroom from 30 to 35 feet away, according to the police investigation.
In contrast with the defendant’s account, Deputy Prosecutor Eric Bentson during the trial called the shot “well-aimed ... a very exact shot, and that’s because he had the gun aimed right at him (Vazquez).”
Haan found in April that there was not enough evidence to show Dunn acted recklessly in the accidental shooting, which a first-degree conviction required. But she did find that he acted with “criminal negligence,” mostly agreeing with the prosecution’s version of events leading up to the shooting.
Friday, Bentson reasserted that Dunn was familiar with shotguns and knew not to pick up a gun or point it at another person. “All of these were intentional acts that were incredibly dangerous and careless,” he said.
Bentson asked that Haan consider sentencing Dunn to more than five months. Morgan, Dunn’s lawyer, asked for a lighter sentence of only 30 days.
“This is a 13-year-old boy that made a terrible mistake. The terrible mistake is that he handled something he shouldn’t have and it had a tragic outcome,” Morgan said.
He also noted that Dunn’s brain — like all early teenagers’ — is not yet fully developed and said Dunn wanted to play with the shotgun, not discharge it. Morgan said Dunn was not aware of the risk.
Vazquez’s grandmother Carla Tolle issued a written statement expressing disappointment that the Legislature did not pass a bill last session that would have penalized parents when their children commit crimes with their firearms.
“This case has been a heartbreaking tragedy, but it is a perfect example of why we need responsible gun ownership laws,” Tolle wrote.
In addition to serving five months in juvenile rehabilitation, Dunn must complete 60 hours of community service.
“I think it is important that you learn from this, that you give back to your community,” Haan said.
Dunn was given 12 months’ probation. Haan prohibited Dunn from having access to firearms and said he must follow standard probation conditions. She also ordered that he have a psychological evaluation and follow-up on any recommendations from it.
For restitution, deputy prosecutor Eric Bentson said the family is asking for $2,000 to cover funeral costs. Morgan, Dunn’s lawyer, said he would have to review it further and the restitution will be agreed upon at a later date.
Dunn was taken into custody immediately after the sentencing. He was scheduled to visit with his family Friday night before he’s transported to a long-term juvenile facility.