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Teen Admits Guilt In Death Of Brother Judge Wants To See Presentencing Report Before Accepting Guilty Plea

Sat., Jan. 14, 1995

Jason Zimmerman formally agreed to plead guilty Friday to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter for the August shooting death of his brother. But it will be weeks before he learns whether his plea will be accepted.

District Court Judge John Bengtson said he first wants to see a presentencing report and mental evaluation of Zimmerman, who turns 15 later this month, before deciding whether he will accept the plea. The report could take about six weeks to prepare.

Zimmerman allegedly shot his 12-year-old brother Justin in the head with a .22-caliber rifle after drinking vodka late last August. According to court records, he ordered his brother to pretend to dial a telephone number, then shot him when he “dialed the wrong number.”

Latah County Prosecutor William Thompson at first charged Zimmerman with seconddegree murder and Thursday added a charge of aggravated assault for allegedly pointing the gun and dry-firing at a 13-year-old friend shortly before the shooting.

Friday’s plea agreement is aimed at keeping Zimmerman out of the state penitentiary, where he would go under the minimum 10-year sentence if convicted of second-degree murder.

He would face a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter, plus another 15 years because a firearm was allegedly involved in the crime. The assault charge, which Thompson said he filed “for the record to reflect all that’s gone on,” carries a maximum five-year sentence.

However, under the plea agreement, Thompson recommends only that Zimmerman be confined in the state youth services center in St. Anthony, where he probably would not stay after the age of 18. Beyond that, the agreement gives Bengtson “infinite flexibility” in sentencing Zimmerman, Thompson said.

“I believe it’s a very fair, a very appropriate agreement for the interest of the state and of the victims involved,” Thompson said.

Zimmerman’s lawyer, Michael Henegen, could not be reached for comment after Friday’s hearing.

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