Father whose 12-year-old son killed neighbor pleads guilty to endangerment
The father of a Rostraver Township boy was in court Wednesday to accept criminal responsibility for his role in the events that led to the shooting death of his son's playmate.
Robert J. Lewis, 41, pleaded guilty yesterday to a single misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment for leaving his 12-year-old son home alone with access to the loaded handgun the boy used to kill 14-year-old neighbor Philip Cusmano.
In return, prosecutors dismissed a felony charge of child endangerment.
"This is in my best interest and the best interest of everyone involved," Lewis told Westmoreland County Judge John Blahovec.
Lewis and his wife, Lori A. Wareham, were charged in the aftermath of Cusmano's death. In March, Westmoreland County Judge Debra Pezze dismissed a felony firearms charge against them as well as all other charges against Wareham.
Their son, Kevin Michael Lewis, was adjudicated delinquent last year in juvenile court and placed in a residential program for juveniles. He could remain in custody until he reaches the age of 21.
As a result of yesterday's plea, Robert Lewis faces a maximum penalty of two years in prison when he is sentenced by Blahovec on July 16. Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said Lewis is likely to receive a sentence of at least six months in jail.
"We'll be asking for incarceration," Peck said.
Philip Cusmano was shot once in the neck on Feb. 25, 2001, by Kevin Lewis as the two teens played with guns at the Lewis home in the Port Royal Village mobile home park in Rostraver.
Authorities say that Kevin Lewis found the gun in Wareham's nightstand and took the weapon to show to Cusmano. Neither Robert Lewis nor Wareham was home at the time.
During the child's juvenile hearing, witnesses said Kevin Lewis thought he emptied all the bullets from a .38-caliber handgun before he pulled the trigger. One round remained in the chamber, and Cusmano was shot in the neck.
He died minutes later in his father's arms.
Pezze allowed Robert Lewis to be prosecuted on the child endangerment and reckless endangerment charges after she ruled he knew that his son had a propensity for violence and was on medication for attention-deficit disorder.
Prosecution of the Lewis family is just one of several undertaken by Peck's office involving cases where poor parenting has led to the death of a child.
Earlier this year an Irwin couple was prosecuted for leaving their 8-year-old daughter home alone with a pet python snake. Robert and Marcy Mountain were charged after their daughter, Amber, died Aug. 24, two days after she was strangled by the snake.
Robert Mountain, 31, was convicted in March of one count of child endangerment and was found not guilty of a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
His estranged wife, Marcy Mountain, 31, pleaded guilty to a similar charge of child endangerment and was sentenced to two years of probation. Robert Mountain is scheduled to be sentenced May 30.
Peck said the prosecution of parents in these types of cases has been rare, but should be undertaken when warranted.
"There are incidents that occur where I believe the parents are responsible. This office has the responsibility for speaking for the victims. The public does feel children need to be protected and criminal laws are a way to do that," Peck said.
The Cusmano family said they, too, see a need to hold parents liable for the actions of their children.
Since their son's death they have been outspoken in their desire to see the Lewis boy and his parents punished for their roles in the shooting.
Carol Cusmano said yesterday she was not satisfied with the outcome of the case.
"We knew all along he was guilty. No remorse was ever shown. They never apologized, and she never sent a card — nothing. There'll never be closure. I don't have a son anymore," Cusmano said.