Gun owner in Scripps Ranch child death pleads not guilty

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A March 12 trial date was set today for a Scripps Ranch man whose gun discharged and mortally wounded a neighbor boy as the fourth-grader and the defendant's 9-year-old daughter played with the weapon.

Todd Conrad Francis, 56, faces seven years and eight months behind bars if convicted of involuntary manslaughter, child abuse and criminal storage of a firearm, said Deputy District Attorney Matthew Dix.

Francis pleaded not guilty today at his Superior Court arraignment.

San Diego police said 10-year-old Eric Klyaz was handling a 9 mm pistol 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 gun went off.

The Dingeman Elementary School student suffered a chest wound and died at Rady Children's Hospital shortly afterward.

Francis' wife, Susan, testified during a preliminary hearing that she got home about 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 he was upstairs using a computer and unaware Eric came over to play. The teenager testified that he had seen a gun case in the garage but never seen a gun.

Mark Jones testified that he was 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 victim on the ground motionless and started CPR.

“There was a gun on a sofa,” Jones testified.

Jones said a 911 operator told him to remove the gun, which he did.

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

A San Diego police officer testified that the older 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 heard Cierra tell a social worker 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.

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