If lawyer dies, Cheney might face negligence charge
DALLAS, Texas (AP) —— If the man wounded by Dick Cheney dies, the vice president could —— in theory at least —— face criminal charges, even though the shooting was an accident.
A Texas grand jury could bring a charge of criminally negligent homicide if there is evidence the vice president knew or should have known "there was a substantial or unjustifiable risk that his actions would result in him shooting a fellow hunter," said Dallas defense attorney David Finn.
Finn has worked as both a state and a federal prosecutor.
"The risk must be of such a nature and degree that it got to be pretty outrageous —— that a reasonable person would have to say, `I am not pulling the trigger because this other guy might be in front of me,' " Finn said.
The charge carries up to two years behind bars, but with no previous felonies Cheney would be eligible for probation, the former prosecutor said.
Mark Skurka, first assistant district attorney of the three-county area where the shooting took place, said prosecutors did not have an investigation under way.
"If something unfortunate happens, then we'll decide what to do, then we'll decide whether we're going to have an investigation or not," Skurka said.
Harry Whittington, a 78-year-old lawyer, was struck in the face, neck and chest with shotgun pellets over the weekend while Cheney was shooting at quail. Whittington suffered a mild heart attack Tuesday after a pellet traveled to his heart.
But on Wednesday, hospital officials said he had a normal heart rhythm again and was sitting up in a chair, eating regular food and planned to do some legal work in his hospital room. Doctors said they are highly optimistic he will recover.
In the only other case of someone being shot by a vice president, Aaron Burr was indicted on murder charges in New York and New Jersey for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804, but he was never tried and finished out his term in office.