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Teen found guilty of manslaughter

By Staff | Jan 21, 2012

After less than an hour’s worth of deliberation, a six-member jury found a Cape Coral teen guilty in the 2010 shooting death of his then-girlfriend.

Jurors took about 45 minutes Friday to find Dylan Stanley Wisniewski, 19, guilty of manslaughter with a firearm in the death of Ashlee Swazey, 15. He is facing six years of probation, due to his age, on up to 30 years in prison.

Assistant State Attorney Marie Doerr called the conviction a victory.

“It’s been a long week. It’s been a long six months for the family,” she said, adding that her team believed all along he was guilty of culpable negligence.

“You just can’t go around pointing guns at people,” Doerr said, adding that the team was pleased that the jury reached that verdict so quickly.

When the verdict was read aloud in the courtroom, members of both the Wisniewski family and the Swazey family began to cry. Wisniewski’s younger brother sobbed uncontrollably as his parents attempted to comfort him.

Both sides watched as Wisniewski was fingerprinted and taken into custody.

Members of his family declined to comment upon leaving the courtroom.

Swazey’s mother identified her reaction to the verdict as “happy.”

“We hoped for it to happen,” Crystal Weber said. “We wanted justice to be served.”

David Swazey, the deceased teen’s father, also expressed relief.

“We’re just happy that the verdict came back that my daughter didn’t die for no reason,” he said, adding that the family has been praying to God.

Wisniewski’s sentencing is scheduled for March 5 at 1:30 p.m.

Doerr did not know as of Friday what type of sentence her team would be recommending to the judge. She said she would have to sit down with them and the Swazey family and discuss what they all felt would be appropriate.

Weber and David Swazey said it was too early to decide on a sentence.

The trial began Thursday with the state presenting its case. Doerr and her co-counsel, Assistant State Attorney Andreas Gardiner, called to the stand multiple witnesses, from first-responders to a medical examiner and police.

They testified on a number of points, including what they witnessed upon first arriving at the scene, that lab tests revealed the muzzle of the rifle contained DNA from Swazey, the cause of death and injuries to the body.

One state witness, an FDLE crime lab technician, testified that the rifle worked properly when she test fired the weapon during her lab tests.

Some of the more compelling testimony Thursday was the 911 call by Wisniewski and two video recordings of Cape detectives interviewing him.

The state rested its case Thursday, and the defense began to present its case to the jurors Friday morning. Assistant Public Defender Maria Pace, who represented Wisniewski, first called to the witness stand Janel Wisniewski.

Wisniewski’s mother testified to her son’s near two-year relationship.

“She was part of the family basically,” she said of Swazey.

She explained that she had purchased the rifle for Wisniewski when he was about 16 and that it had stayed in her room with the ammo until just prior to the shooting. She had later bought him a gun rack to store it on in his room.

“I just felt like an unloaded gun, as long as the bullets were in my room, wouldn’t hurt anybody,” Janel Wisniewski said.

She testified to going to the shooting range three times with her son.

“We brought two friends with us and they taught him how to use it and that was basically it,” Janel Wisniewski said, adding that he had no formal training.

She described the last time Wisniewski used the rifle prior to the shooting. She had asked him to kill an injured bird in their yard a few months earlier.

Pace then called Wisniewski’s father, Stanley, to the witness stand.

He testified that he has no familiarity with guns, and that he and his wife had decided to let their son have one and that he could keep it in his room at 18.

“‘Cause he was 18, and I thought he would be a responsible adult,” he said.

Stanley Wisniewski also talked about the day of the shooting. He said he did not hear the gun fire, that his son just came out and said Ashlee was shot.

“I didn’t believe him at first,” he said. “I thought he might be joking.”

He added that he never imagined that would happen in a million years.

Before resting its case, the state called one final witness – Wisniewski.

He testified to he and Swazey’s relationship, how he saved up for the rifle and how his mother bought it for him, and how many times he had used the rifle prior to the shooting – four, including when he killed the injured bird.

Wisniewski said he had not seen Swazey for about two weeks prior to the shooting because she had been grounded. He said he hung up the rack that day because she was coming over and he wanted to show the rifle to her.

He pointed it out in his bedroom when she arrived at the house.

“She thought it was cool,” Wisniewski said.

After leaving the house for some time, the two returned and eventually headed back to his bedroom. He testified that he removed the gun from the rack, then pointed it at a wall and was looking through the sight, focusing.

Wisniewski said Swazey stepped in front of the barrel with her mouth open.

“She was just staring at me for a minute, and then she fell to the ground,” he said, choking up and crying on the witness stand.

Wisniewski said he went to his father for help.

“I just looked at him and I said, ‘Ashlee got shot,'” he continued through tears. “He just didn’t believe me, so I grabbed the phone and called 911.”

Wisniewski returned to the room and followed instructions from the 911 operator on how to do CPR. He attempted to do CPR until police arrive.

While on the stand, he testified that he guessed that his finger was on the trigger and that he did not know if Swazey touched or bumped the rifle. He told the jurors that he never thought nor meant to intentionally engage it.

He said he did not know the gun was loaded, but did not check, did not know why Swazey walked in front of the gun and did not intentionally fire at her.

Lee County Circuit Judge John W. Dommerich presided over the trial.