A day before he was to go on trial in Douglas County, a Topeka man pleaded no contest to reckless involuntary manslaughter in the 1998 accidental shooting death of his girlfriend.
"He's been living with this for four years, and he needs to get on with his life," Topeka attorney Jonathan Phelps said of his client, Joseph R. Beier Jr., 24. "He was strongly attached to that girl."
Beier was charged even though on Nov. 24, 1998, he did not pull the trigger when a rifle shot killed Misty Taylor, 16, Topeka.
Beier, Taylor and a friend, Donald Raymond Koch, also of Topeka, were on an outing in rural Douglas County near Lecompton. Using a spotlight, Beier and Koch took turns shooting at deer in the area of North 2190 and East 300 roads.
According to testimony in earlier court hearings, Koch was holding a high-powered rifle that belonged to Beier when the weapon accidentally discharged as he climbed into the back of Beier's pickup truck. The bullet went through the truck cab's rear window, striking Taylor in the head.
The Douglas County District Attorney's Office maintained Beier was responsible for the girl's death because it was Beier's gun, his truck and his idea to shoot at deer at night.
It was the third time Beier faced a charge in the incident. He initially was charged with involuntary manslaughter. The district attorney dropped the charge in August 1999 and later refiled it. In April 2000, Judge Jack Murphy ruled that Beier's right to a speedy trial was violated, and the charge was dismissed.
The Kansas Court of Appeals upheld Murphy's decision but ruled that involuntary manslaughter could be refiled alleging reckless involuntary manslaughter. The latest charge specifically states "reckless" as part of the allegation.
Tuesday, during a pretrial hearing before Murphy, Beier entered the no-contest plea.
"He's a substantially different person today than he was when this happened," Phelps said. "He wants to put this behind him and get on with his life."
Murphy is scheduled to sentence Beier at 2 p.m. Sept. 13. Depending on whether he has a prior criminal record, Beier could be sentenced from 31 to 34 months in prison. He also could get probation.
Beier is not in custody.
Koch was convicted in 1999 of involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy to commit illegal hunting. He was sentenced to three years of probation, but the probation was revoked in February 2001. He now is serving time in the Winfield Correctional Facility and is ineligible for release until March 2003.