Port Huron man gets 3 to 15 years for drunken shooting

Charles Kelly listens to the victim’s father address the courtroom Monday during his sentencing. (Andrew Jowett | Times Herald)

Charles Kelly listens to the victim’s father address the courtroom Monday during his sentencing. (Andrew Jowett | Times Herald)

By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald

A 23-year-old Port Huron man will spend the next three to 15 years in prison for fatally shooting 40-year-old Nellie Jo Pearson.

Friends and family members of Pearson and Charles Joshua Kelly filled Circuit Judge Michael West’s courtroom for Kelly’s sentencing Monday.

“Alcohol and firearms don’t mix — ever,” Circuit Court Judge Michael West said before sentencing Kelly.

“I don’t think it’s a case where guidelines should be exceeded. But I disagree with the recommendation. It is on the low end of the guideline. This is the grossest of gross negligence.”

Kelly pleaded guilty to discharging a firearm while under the influence causing death, a 15-year felony, and using a controlled substance, a one-year misdemeanor. The recommended sentence was not made part of the court record.

Pearson died after being shot Sept. 13 inside a Rural Street home.

“There are many things that have to be considered,” West said. “Maybe this is the beginning of the healing process. I just don’t understand the mentality of anyone at that age to think that a firearm, loaded or unloaded, is something you play with.”

Kelly addressed Pearson’s family alongside his lawyer before his sentence was handed out.

“I just want all of you to know how sorry I am,” he said to a tearful courtroom. “Nothing I say will make it better. But if I could do something to take it back, I would.”

Pearson’s father also spoke.

Gerald Paeth described finding his daughter on a gurney at the morgue and giving her a kiss goodbye.

“I’m still waiting for my daughter to drive into the driveway,” he said. “Judge, I have no idea what the sentencing should be for this man. I think everybody involved should never be able to handle a handgun for the rest of their life. You have to squeeze a trigger to make a gun go off.”

Thomas Bales, Kelly’s lawyer, said he has been working with his client since the beginning and knows how hard it has been on his family.

“This case breaks my heart. He’s a good kid,” Bales said. “He’s got a baby he has to take care of. We’ve talked about what he is prepared to do. He has a lot of family support and there are no priors on his record.”

Senior Assistant Prosecutor Mona Armstrong said the word that kept coming to mind for this case was “devastating.”

“I’ve spent time with her family and quite honestly, that word does not do justice,” Armstrong said. “This is a tragic death that did not have to happen.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 4, 2015)

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