AUBURN – A 21-year-old Lewiston man will spend a year in prison for killing his best friend.
Brandon Knight pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon Friday at an emotionally charged sentencing in Androscoggin County Superior Court.
He admitted to shooting Shawn Fitzsimmons, 24, in the forehead with a pistol two years ago at a friend’s apartment. Knight has said he didn’t know the gun was loaded.
Free on bail and wearing a dark blue shirt and tie, he apologized to Fitzsimmons’ family, who were gathered in the courtroom.
“I should have known better,” he said. Referring to Fitzsimmons, he said, “I miss him a lot.”
The victim’s father, Danny Fitzsimmons, chided Knight in a letter he read while choking back tears.
“I want you to know that what you did was careless and that you had no regard for the life of our son,” he read. He told Knight his son had decided to remain friends with him despite Knight’s “possessiveness and anger moods” because his son felt sorry for the defendant.
“That was the man he was. He cared for others, sometimes to a fault. And he cared for you. That is the person you killed,” Fitzsimmons said.
He acknowledged the shooting was an accident but said he believed Knight had meant to “intimidate” Fitzsimmons by pointing the gun at him.
“What you have taken from us was not only our son, you also killed our family,” he said. “Our spirit to live is gone. Our hearts ripped from us, never to be happy in this lifetime again.”
Severing their relationship, he wished Knight well in his quest to earn a high school diploma, but added, “This is goodbye.”
Knight was sentenced to five years with all but one year suspended. He will be on probation for two years after his release from prison.
A jury deadlocked 8-4 last year on a manslaughter charge. In February, a grand jury indicted him anew on charges of manslaughter and aggravated assault.
Assistant Attorney General Fernand LaRochelle said the evidence in the case coupled with the hung jury from the last trial convinced him a plea bargain was the right thing to do.
“It’s best for all parties concerned,” he said.
Sheriff’s deputies led Knight from the courtroom, his hands cuffed behind his back.