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SALT LAKE CITY — Kimberly Harding has never met Eric Charlton, who accidentally killed his brother during a weekend camping trip. She's only seen news reports about his case, but that was enough.
"I feel total compassion for him," Harding said. "I know that it was an accident that shouldn't have happened."
On September 20, Harding began circulating a petition on Facebook, asking the Juab County Attorney for compassion in the Charlton case. Charlton is accused of fatally shooting his younger brother during a camping trip at Yuba Lake over Memorial Day weekend.
"I can't even imagine what Eric and his family are going through," Harding said. "I just almost felt like it was tugging on my heartstrings and I really wanted to help him."
More than 300 people, including some of Charlton's friends, have signed the petition. Harding says even if it doesn't affect the criminal case, she just wants Charlton to know people are behind him.
I can't even imagine what Eric and his family are going through. I just almost felt like it was tugging on my heartstrings and I really wanted to help him.
"I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who have lost somebody and know the pain of losing somebody, and then to go through this with the court system, it's awful. I can't imagine," Harding said.
On September 21, a judge dismissed the felony manslaughter charge against Charlton and ordered him to stand trial on the lesser charge of negligent homicide. On Monday, the Juab County Attorney, who said he was unaware of Harding's petition, filed a motion, asking the judge to reconsider his decision and reinstate the original charge.
Prosecutors say, manslaughter charges are appropriate because Charlton's behavior was reckless. They say Charlton, a six-year veteran of the Marine Corps, knew gun safety.
Court documents say Charlton "was aware his actions posed a substantial and unjustifiable risk (or chance) that circumstances existed (gun with a loaded magazine, failure to make gun safe) that could have caused death."
But Harding says, pictures of Charlton sobbing in court, show prison time isn't the answer.
"You can put him behind bars, but the bars that he's living behind right now, with his mind and emotions, I think is the worst prison that anyone could ever be in," Harding said.
Harding has also planned a fundraiser that will go towards Charlton's legal fees. Charlton's attorney, Susanne Gustin, declined to comment because she's not involved with the petition and because it's an ongoing case.
Charlton is scheduled to be back in court on October 23.