SHAWNEE, Okla. - A 15-year-old girl was bound over for trial on a manslaughter charge Friday after a Pottawatomie County judge said prosecutors didn't have enough evidence to bring murder charges against her for the shooting death of her friend last October.
Kaylen Thomas was found shot in the head at a McLoud home on October 5, 2018. She died later that evening.
A 15-year-old girl who lives at the home was initially charged as a youthful offender with first-degree manslaughter in November. However, last month, prosecutors upgraded the charge against the girl, and a 17-year-old boy also accused of being involved in Thomas' death, to second-degree murder.
The girl, wearing a black top, blue jeans with rhinestones and sneakers, appeared before Judge David Cawthon shackled at the waist for a preliminary hearing on the murder charge Friday afternoon.
In the hours of sometimes tearful testimony, it was learned the three girls in the home that evening, including the young woman charged and Thomas, took turns playing with the semi-automatic pistol and its laser sight.
A 14-year-old girl and friend, who was also present in the home at the time of the shooting, testified that she and Thomas were in the 15-year-old girl's bedroom when the girl pulled out the gun from a laundry basket and handed the gun to Thomas, who then handed it to the 14-year-old.
The 14-year-old, who is the sister of the 17-year-old charged in the case, said her brother showed the three how to chamber a bullet in the gun and then, according to the witness, allegedly cleared the weapon of the round and later left the house, leaving the gun behind. The girl testified she was in the bathroom, across the hall from the bedroom, when Thomas walked into the bedroom. The girl said less than a minute went by until she heard "a loud boom."
Four others took the stand, including former McLoud Police Chief Tom Pringle, Detective Lt. Alan Smith and Thomas' mother, Cynthia Thomas.
District Attorney Greg Wilson's attempted to paint a picture that the evidence in the case rose to the level of a second-degree murder charge, but the girl's defense attorneys argued the evidence clearly pointed to an accident.
Ultimately, Cawthon agreed. The evidence didn't support a murder charge, but there's enough evidence to show misdemeanor reckless conduct with a firearm led to a death. He certified the girl as a youthful offender and bound her over for trial on a charge of first degree manslaughter.
"Being allowed in the Youthful Offender system would provide more consideration to what, as a society, expects of treatment for those who haven't even turned 18," Cawthon said. "I know those who shouldn't be. And this isn't one of them."
A youthful offender status means, upon conviction, a teenager has the opportunity for community release if they complete particular programs, or be incarcerated with an adult population.
Cawthon was also careful to make note of his decisions to those sitting in the gallery.
"This is not a hearing of finding guilt or innocence," Cawthon said. "The court finds itself in a very difficult situation. I'm not bound by anybody's directives. I'm bound by evidence and to come up with solutions as best I can under the circumstances."
"We had him at second degree murder. He switched it to first degree manslaughter," said Thomas after the hearing. "But my fight's not over yet. So we'll see how it ends up."
"This is a tragedy, all the way around. A 15-year-old girl accidentally killed her best friend. these are the biggest things we have to keep in mind," said the girl's defense attorney Taylor McLawhorn, who declined to speak on camera, told News 4 after the hearing. "I think the decision to find manslaughter versus murder two was the correct call. A close call, for the judge. We'll keep moving forward, keep fighting. Enough lives have been lost."
Wilson declined to comment after the hearing. An arraignment for the girl is scheduled for later this month. The 17-year-old boy has a preliminary hearing also scheduled for next month.