There was silent applause, fist pumping and smiles in court Wednesday when Judge Anthony Epstein ordered Terrell Brent released from custody.
But there were also tears. And anger.
“My brother’s f–ing dead,” yelled one woman as she fled the courtroom. “And [Brent] is going f–ing home. This court’s a joke.”
Outside the courtroom, shouts of celebration and anger drowned out Judge Epstein’s final statements on the conditions of Brent’s release.
Of the crime that, until today, had kept Brent behind bars on suspicion of murder and manslaughter, Epstein said it was “a tragic, tragic accident.”
“There were a series of actions that resulted in the tragic death of a young man,” Epstein said, in announcing his finding of probable cause on a voluntary manslaughter charge in the case.
According to MPD Detective Dwayne Partman, who testified at the preliminary hearing Wednesday, the night of Sept. 16, Lugus Fleming appeared to empty bullets out of a revolver, then invited Brent to play Russian Roullette. Fleming fired the gun and nothing happened. He handed it to Brent with the barrel pointing at Fleming. Brent fired the gun and nothing happened. He fired it again, expelling a bullet, which struck Fleming in the face, killing him.
Partman said the two young men, both 20 years old, were “like brothers” and both lived with Brent’s mother and siblings.
Brent, and two others who were in Brent’s bedroom at the time of the shooting, all told authorities that they thought the gun was unloaded and empty. When the gun went off it made a “POW,” and Brent “was standing there in shock with the gun,” Partman said witnesses said.
Defense Attorney James Whitehead, arguing that the voluntary manslaughter charge be reduced to involuntary manslaughter, said that because the young men believed the gun to be empty, firing it does not add up to a “conscious disregard” for safety, which is a prerequisite for voluntary manslaughter.
“No one was aware of a risk from shooting what they thought was an empty gun,” he said, adding that Brent and Fleming may have believed that the game of Russian Roullette was played with an empty gun.
Epstein, however, said that the general assumption is that in a game of Russian Roullette a bullet remains in the gun and that Brent, in choosing to play the game and handle the weapon, had to know that he was taking a chance that Fleming could be killed.
“It’s a deliberate act,” Epstein said. “Even if there’s only one chance in six [of firing a bullet].”
Brent is expected back in court Dec. 12 for a felony status conference.