PITTSFIELD, Mass. (AP) – Christopher Burda says his friend was so despondent over her father’s death and other problems that he believed only a major jolt would “snap her out of it.”

So he decided to shock Nancy Choquette with the sight and feel of her late father’s 9mm Beretta – the very gun that, moments later, she lifted to her head and used to kill herself in Burda’s North Adams kitchen.

Now Burda faces up to 20 years in prison after being convicted Tuesday of involuntary manslaughter in the death on Nov. 21, 2005, Choquette’s 51st birthday.

Jurors, who delivered the verdict after slightly more than an hour of deliberating, sided with prosecutors, who said Burda should have known Choquette was too suicidal and intoxicated to be trusted with a loaded weapon – particularly one with such emotional significance.

Burda said he and Choquette, who lived in nearby Stamford, Vt., were talking in his kitchen that night when Choquette’s mood changed to anger, frustration and despair about “how hard life was.”

He told police her last words to him were chilling: “I’m going to do it, and you’re going to watch.”

“It was like she needed a slap in the face to just snap her out of it,” Burda testified. “I couldn’t hit her or touch her, but I was thinking, ‘What would jog her?’ “

He said he was just “calling her bluff,” retrieving the gun he had bought from her father from another room and even reloading it with three fresh bullets after it failed to fire on her first attempt.

Prosecutor Joan McMenemy told jurors during closing arguments Tuesday that Choquette had told Burda more than once that she was suicidal.

“He is a primary cause of her death,” McMenemy said of Burda. “She pulled the trigger of the gun that the defendant provided to her not once, but twice.”

Defense attorney Leonard Cohen said he has not decided whether to appeal. Sentencing was scheduled for Friday.

Cohen called the suicide a shocking turn of events that left Burda devastated and in need of psychological care and medication.

He said even the officers who interviewed him on the two-hour tape, which was played for jurors, told Burda they knew he did not intend for Choquette to die and that they didn’t believe he’d done anything wrong.

Those statements, which the prosecutor dismissed as interview techniques, shows even trained officers had their doubts about his complicity, Cohen said.

“It’s a suicide, not a manslaughter – it’s a suicide,” he said. “What can you say about a tragedy other than the fact that it’s a tragedy.”

AP-ES-03-11-08 1725EDT


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