An Elkins man, who had been previously convicted of a drug distribution charge, admitted Thursday in federal court to illegally possessing a firearm that accidentally discharged, hitting a teenage member of his hunting party in the leg.
Robert L. Reckart Jr., 48, pleaded guilty to the charge before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Kaull in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia. Reckart had been previously convicted in 1986 of cocaine distribution, a felony, which had prohibited him from possessing a gun. His rights to gun ownership had never been restored by the court.
He faces up to 10 years in federal prison and/or a $250,000 fine, plus up to three years of supervised release at a yet unscheduled sentencing hearing. That hearing should be conducted within the next eight weeks, Kaull said, pending the completion of a pre-sentence investigation.
U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II offered a three-level reduction under uniform sentencing guidelines in Reckart's sentence as part of a non-binding plea agreement.
Reckart has to accept responsibility for the shooting and do so in a timely manner in order for the terms of the plea agreement to be valid. Reckart also will be required to pay a $100 special assessment fee. The sentencing judge will not be required to follow the prosecutor's recommendations.
"If you don't get the sentence you are hoping for or expecting," Kaull said, "you don't get to change your mind (about pleading guilty). You do not have the right to withdraw your guilty plea."
Trooper J.A. Kopec of the West Virginia State Police testified that he had been contacted by an area hospital following the shooting of 15-year-old Tanner Boatwright during a deer hunting excursion in Tucker County on Nov. 25, 2011. Kopec said he later learned that Reckart was a suspect in the accidental shooting, and that Reckart had a previous felony conviction which prohibited him from being in possession of a firearm.
Kopec testified that Reckart admitted to the accidental shooting, which led to Boatwright having his leg amputated below the knee. The weapon, a Harrington & Richardson Handi rifle, accidentally discharged when Reckart slipped and fell while exiting his four-wheeler, the trooper said. The weapon had been sold to Reckart's father by an Elkins sporting goods dealer. The rifle will be the subject of forfeiture proceedings as part of the plea agreement.
Under questioning by defense attorney Bill Wilmoth, Kopec said Reckart's son was supposed to have been in possession of the weapon. But because the group was hunting after dark, Reckart reportedly told investigators he thought it would not be safe for his son to carry the weapon.
The Boatwright family was not present at the plea hearing, but Ihlenfeld said the family was notified of the hearing. He said the family will be given the opportunity to speak at the sentencing hearing, either through testimony or through a victim's impact statement.
Ihlenfeld said the family has retained an attorney in the matter.