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Jason D. Plemons The Fresno Bee

VISALIA

A Tulare County sheriff's deputy will stand trial on charges that he carelessly stored his gun, which led to the death of a 7-year-old neighbor who was shot in the head.

Judge Darryl Ferguson ruled after a preliminary hearing Tuesday that enough evidence existed that deputy Paul Turner, 25, may have committed a crime.

That ruling means Turner must stand trial on charges of felony first-degree criminal storage of a firearm. He faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors charge that Turner left his service weapon, a .40mm handgun, unlocked and accessible.

Four children, including Gabriella Garcia, were playing inside Turner's apartment on Oct. 12 when a gunshot rang out. Gabriella was found inside the bedroom with a gunshot wound to her head.

Gabriella's family lived next door to the Turners in the Fox Hollow apartment complex on West Grand Avenue, just west of Highway 65 in Porterville. Her parents, Bridgette and Art Garcia, said they once were close friends with the Turners and often shared meals. Their children played together.

The Garcias sat quietly during Tuesday's hearing. Bridgette Garcia wiped tears from her eyes as investigators testified about what happened the day her daughter was shot.

Porterville police detective Rose Olmos testified that Turner told her the series of events that led up to when he and Art Garcia found Gabriella mortally wounded in the Turners' bedroom.

Art Garcia and Turner were standing just outside the apartment, and four children -- two of Turner's and Gabriella and her younger brother -- were playing inside. Turner told Olmos that he heard the children run up the stairs toward his bedroom. They heard a gunshot about two minutes later.

Turner and Garcia rushed into the apartment and up the stairs. Turner said he saw Gabriella fall over the side of the bed and land on a nearby pile of clothes. He saw his gun on a pillow by the bed.

Garcia was behind Turner. He rushed over to Gabriella, scooped her up in his arms and ran toward his vehicle, yelling for Bridgette Garcia to come because Gabriella had been shot.

The couple took their daughter to Sierra View District Hospital, where she died.

Officer Todd Lientz testified that he arrived shortly after the shooting and was met by Turner at the apartment complex. He said Turner appeared upset and distraught. Speaking slowly and solemnly, he told Lientz what had happened and handed over his gun and a shell casing, saying that he had stored the gun on the top shelf of his closet.

The gun's location appeared to be the key point during the hearing.

Turner told investigators that he had been cleaning it earlier in the day but got distracted when one of his children began crying. He stored the gun and its magazine on the top shelf of his closet. He left a round in the chamber.

Officer Brian Clower testified that he found the magazine just where Turner said it would be. But Clower, who said he is about 6 feet, 2 inches tall, said that he had trouble reaching the top shelf and had to stand on some boxes that were on the floor inside the closet.

There also was a heavy layer of dust on the top shelf and no indication that a gun had recently been there. No fresh fingerprints were found.

Gary Paden, Turner's attorney, at one point asked Olmos whether she knew who pulled the trigger or where the gun had been stored. She said no, but later, under redirect from prosecutor Ed Gil, said that Gabriella's brother told investigators that Turner's son pulled it from a drawer under the bed.

The boy shot Gabriella as the children played on the waterbed.

Paden also filed a motion to reduce the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor, but Ferguson denied that request.

Turner, who was placed on administrative leave from the Sheriff's Department, is scheduled for a felony arraignment on June 9.

The reporter can be reached at [email protected] or (559) 622-2409.
 
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