Sailor charged in accidental shooting death of Virginia Beach teen sentenced to jail
By JANE HARPER | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: August 1, 2018
VIRGINIA BEACH (Tribune News Service) — In a highly emotional court hearing, a former Navy sailor who shot and killed an 18-year-old friend after he had showed off his gun to her was sentenced Tuesday to six months in jail.
Alec Wagner, now 24, trembled and sobbed throughout most of the sentencing hearing in Circuit Court. Several of Aleigha Hawkingberry’s family members also could be heard crying.
Wagner pleaded guilty earlier this year to involuntary manslaughter. The crime carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, but state sentencing guidelines suggested no more than six months.
“I do believe it was an accident,” Judge A. Bonwill Shockley said before issuing her sentence. “I don’t think the defendant set out to hurt her. ... He has shown a huge amount of remorse since this happened.
Prosecutors agreed that Wagner never intended to harm the young woman on that night in October 2016, but they believed the fact that he had been trained to handle a firearm properly made it a criminal case.
“You treat every weapon as if it’s loaded. Mr. Wagner knew that,” Prosecutor Ashley Coleman said. “That’s the biggest tragedy in this case because he had the training and experience needed to prevent this from happening.”
Hawkingberry had graduated from Landstown High School four months before she died. She was attending Tidewater Community College and hoped to go to Virginia Commonwealth University, and then to law school afterward, her mother, Debbie Hawkingberry testified.
“She wanted to be a judge,” the mother said.
On the night of the shooting, Hawkingberry’s parents, brother, one of her sisters, and her 5-year-old niece were in the house when they heard the shot.
Debbie Hawkingberry called 911, not knowing that it was her daughter lying in the street outside with a wound to the neck. When she realized it was Aleigha who had been hurt, she rushed to her side and held onto her while they waited for the ambulance.
“I was rubbing her arm, telling her to stay with us,” the mother said.
Wagner, who was 22 at the time, told police he had taken his .40-caliber gun out of his glove compartment earlier that night to show it off to Hawkingberry. He put it in a pocket on the driver’s side door afterward and drove Hawkingberry home.
Hawkingberry was standing outside the car, leaning toward the driver’s window and talking to Wagner, when he took the gun out to return it to the glove compartment. He had his finger on the trigger and was putting the weapon back when he accidentally banged it on the steering wheel. The gun discharged, striking Hawkingberry in the neck. Wagner stayed with her, putting pressure on the wound, until help arrived.
On Tuesday, he tearfully apologized to her family before being taken away in handcuffs.
“I think about you all every day and what you have gone through,” he said. “I just want you to know how sorry I am. Please forgive me.”
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