Judge Karen Howze this afternoon ruled that a fatal game of Russian Roulette, which killed twenty-year-old Lugus Fleming on Friday night, could not be a crime of second-degree murder because the teen who fired the fatal shot believed that the gun was empty.
More than thirty people filled the courtroom at D.C. Superior Court for Howze’s ruling, which came at Terrell Rashad Brent‘s first court appearance.
According to charging documents in the case, Brent, 19, and Fleming were playing with a revolver handgun in Fleming’s bedroom on Friday night. Fleming emptied ammunition from the gun, then pulled the trigger and the gun did not fire. Fleming then handed the gun to Brent, with the muzzle pointing back at himself. Brent pulled the trigger and the gun fired, striking Fleming in the neck.
Prosecutors filed a charge of second-degree murder against Brent in connection with the case. When Howze said that she could not find probable cause for the charge, AUSA Reagan Taylor orally changed it to voluntary manslaughter. Taylor said, however, that the government believes evidence for second-degree murder does exist.
In Russian Roulette commonly there is one bullet left in the gun, Taylor said, and if the young men were in fact playing Russian Roulette there would be reason to believe that Brent could have assumed that a bullet remained in the gun.
Brent’s defense attorney, James Whitehead, said he thought the charge could be reduced below voluntary manslaughter. He said that because Brent believed the gun was empty, the most the government could possibly charge in the case was assault with a deadly weapon.
“It was the decedent’s idea to play this game in the first place,” Whitehead said.
Brent was ordered held pending a preliminary hearing, scheduled for Sept. 28.
Read charging documents in the case below.