Man Gets 5 to 10 Years for Shooting Teen with Air Rifle

A Bristol Borough man who inexplicably shot his teenage sister’s best friend in the chest with an air rifle was sentenced last week to serve five to 10 years in state prison.

Bucks County Common Pleas Court Judge Diane E. Gibbons told James Stanley that she had been prepared to hand him a maximum county prison sentence for shooting the 16-year-old.

“But I’m not going to do that,” the judge said, “because you have shown no empathy or sympathy or remorse to her.”

Stanley, 28, of the 700 block of Spruce Street, pleaded no contest in April to aggravated assault and other charges in the May 6, 2017, shooting. Police arrived at the emergency room of Lower Bucks Hospital to find the victim lethargic, weak and struggling to breathe.

The teen was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where a pellet from Stanley’s air rifle was found lodged beside her heart.

Stanley initially lied to investigators, saying he was shooting at targets in his back yard when a pellet ricocheted off a fence and struck the victim. He admitted enlisting members of his family to repeat the lie on his behalf.

Investigators later established that the shooting took place in Stanley’s living room. The victim told police that she and Stanley’s sister were sitting on a couch looking at concert tickets online when she saw Stanley pointing the air rifle at her.

“I yelled, `Don’t shoot me,’ and he pulled the trigger and laughed at me as I was gasping for air,” the victim wrote in a statement that was read to Gibbons by the girl’s grandmother during Stanley’s sentencing on July 5.

“It felt like James and his family sat around and came up with a lie to tell so that he wouldn’t get in trouble,” the girl’s statement continued. “Which in turn held off my care for over an hour.”

Because the pellet remains lodged in the pericardium around her heart, the girl said, she has constant heaviness and pain in her chest. She has had to give up many activities, such as riding horses and roller coasters, for fear that a sudden jolt could push the pellet into her heart.

“I will always be a cardiac patient,” she wrote. “Things I never had to do before are now things I have to do to help me live. Always checking my heart for fluid and making sure that the bullet or pellet didn’t move.”

Stanley told Gibbons that the shooting wasn’t intentional, and that he didn’t know the gun was primed to fire. To the victim he said, “I love you like a sister and I always will.”

Stanley said he lied about how the shooting occurred, and induced his family to lie as well, because he was scared. “It’s the biggest mistake of my life,” he said. “I regret it every day.”

Stanley insisted that he didn’t realize the gun was pointed at the girl when it went off.

“I’m a fidgety person,” he said. “We were talking and I guess I was playing with the safety and it went off … I didn’t realize I hit the trigger.”

Bucks County Detective Jack Slattery testified at the hearing that it would take much more force on the trigger than an accidental touch to make the gun fire.

“This wasn’t an accident, your honor,” Deputy District Attorney Thomas C. Gannon told Gibbons. “This doesn’t just happen.”

Gannon said that Stanley had let his lie fester for weeks before admitting to his coverup, and that in the meantime family members had cleared out the backyard shooting range that could have been used as evidence.

“The grim reality is that [the victim] could have been murdered that day,” Gannon said. “This could have been a criminal homicide.”

Incensed that Stanley focused most of his courtroom statements on himself and his emotional trauma, rather than fully admitting his crimes and showing concern for the victim, Gibbons sentenced him to serve five to 10 years with a concurrent 10 years of probation.

“She was somewhere she thought she would be safe [but] you gave no thought to her at all,” the judge said. “You had your opportunities [to apologize]. I gave you multiple chances. It’s done. I find that these tears of yours are for yourself, not for her … You have shown a callousness and a hardness of heart that I have rarely seen.”

The case was investigated by the Bristol Borough Police Department.

Contact: Thomas C. Gannon, 215.348.6461, tcgannon@buckscounty.org