MIAMI (WSVN) - A young man who confessed to accidentally shooting a 17-year-old girl pleaded guilty in court, as he stood before the victim’s heartbroken family.
Hours later, a judge sentenced the 20-year-old to several weeks of jail time, followed by boot camp.
Michael McGowan was 17 years old when, he said, he opened fire at an Airbnb in Miami on May 18, 2020.
Now 20, the defendant on Thursday faced a judge and the family of the victim, Giselle Rengifo.
It was a tense and emotional day, and Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Lody Jean used harsh words to silence the victim’s brother, who sat next to his sister and mother.
“No, this is disrespectful. Stop, stop!” Jean said.
Rengifo’s mother broke down in tears as she also spoke up.
“I can’t hear her calling me ‘Mommy’ anymore. ‘Mom, I love you, Mom, Mom!’ You took that from me,” she said as she pointed at McGowan.
McGowan pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Rengifo’s death.
Investigators said a group of friends had gathered at the Airbnb at the time of the shooting.
McGowan has maintained all along that he discharged the firearm by accident. His attorney, Jude Faccidomo, made that argument again in court.
“This was the result of an accident. Everyone in the room handled that gun. Everyone in the room, including the deceased, Your Honor, was reckless with that gun,” said Faccidomo. “That bullet had nobody’s name on it. Michael is not just here because it was his gun. More importantly, he’s here because he was the last one to hold it when it went off.”
Attorneys also told Jean his client had a troubled childhood, dealing with homelessness and abuse. They asked the judge to consider his age at the time of the crime and sentence him to boot camp instead of prison.
But prosecutors argued McGowan’s age is no excuse for his actions.
“He was not a child. He’s not 10, he’s not 11, and he’s not 12. He’s not even 15; he was almost 18 years old,” said prosecutor Michael Spivak. “If you want Giselle’s life to have meaning, judge, you have to send him to prison.”
Following the hearing, Rengifo’s sister, Salome Jackson, said her family wants to ensure justice is served.
“You don’t just hold a gun to somebody’s head and pull the trigger and call it an accident,” she said.
McGowan had a chance to speak and apologize to the victim’s family.
“She’s not here anymore, and I’m so sorry that this is my fault,” he said as he fought back tears.
Just before 6 p.m., after a brief break in the hearing, Jean returned with her decision.
“You’ll be sentenced to 364 days in the Dade County Jail. It has been mitigated to time served,” she said.
The judge’s ruling means McGowan will be released from jail sometime in October. From there, he will go to boot camp for three to four months. After that, he will be on probation for five years and will be listed as a convicted felon.
The sentence was not what Rengifo’s family had hoped for.
A scuffle broke out involving members of the victim’s family. They were stopped by Miami-Dade Police officers.
“After he killed my daughter, and still he gets time served?!” said Rengifo’s mother.
McGowan had faced up to 30 years in prison. As part of his sentence, he has been ordered to share his story with high school students once a year during his probation.
Copyright 2022 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.