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Dowagiac man gets 5-15 years in prison for manslaughter

Published 5:00am Saturday, March 20, 2010

Niles Daily Star

CASSOPOLIS – Steven Graham was handed a five- to 15-year prison sentence Friday at Cass County Circuit Court for the murder of Patrick Carter, but the guilt of shooting his friend may be more of a punishment than the sentence.

Graham, 23, of Dowagiac, and Carter were at a friend’s house in Dowagiac on the evening of Oct. 19, 2009 when Graham called their friend Andrew Novotny and had him bring guns to the home. After some heavy drinking, gunplay began.

Carter approached Graham with two loaded pistols. Graham had a 30-30 rifle between his legs when it accidentally discharged, hitting Carter in the head. Graham and Novotny fled the scene, leaving Carter to die.

“I think about this accident every day,” Graham said at his sentencing. “I pray to God each night for forgiveness and that Patrick’s family will one day forgive me.”

He then turned to Carter’s parents, Mary and Patrick Sr., and pleaded for forgiveness.

“I’m so sorry,” he said.

Prosecuting Attorney Victor Fitz said it was a completely avoidable loss of life.

“The tragedy of all this was there was no reason for Steven to die that night,” Fitz said.
Fitz said by asking Novotny to bring guns to the home, Graham ushered in a “Wild West atmosphere” that led to the gun being “recklessly discharged.”

Mary Carter asked for Judge Michael Dodge to impose the strictest sentence possible.
“Patrick will never come back,” she said, while crying. “There is no ‘I’m sorry.’ He didn’t deserve to die.”

Graham’s attorney, Paul Jancha, said his client clearly feels deep remorse and asked for a jail sentence rather than prison. He also reminded Dodge that Carter put himself in a position for Graham “to foolishly do what he did” when he approached him with two pistols.

Still Dodge gave a sentence toward the top of the guidelines for involuntary manslaughter.
“It was very clear from the facts you never intended this result,” Dodge said. “But your discharge of a firearm was gross negligence.”

Graham was also ordered to pay $9,761 in restitution.

Novotny was sentenced last week to 34 months to 10 years in prison for his involvement.

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