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North Las Vegas man convicted of involuntary manslaughter

A North Las Vegas man was convicted Friday of involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of his 17-year-old girlfriend more than three years ago.

Casey Sandoval, now 19, told jurors, who deliberated the case for two days, that he unintentionally shot and killed Ariele Azrate-Lujan after pointing a gun at her head as a prank.

The jury acquitted Sandoval of grand larceny of a firearm. Deputy public defenders Tegan Machnich and Robert O’Brien said Sandoval wept after the verdicts were read.

“We’re happy they recognized he didn’t know the gun was loaded,” O’Brien said. “It’s ultimately what we were trying to explain the entire time, and what he’s been saying for three years.”

Prosecutors said Sandoval, who was on trial for murder, intentionally shot Azrate-Lujan in the head. They argued that he told several different stories about how she died in October 2015.

Sandoval testified that he called 911 and falsely told a dispatcher that his girlfriend had fallen and apparently hit her head while he was in the bathroom.

He said on the witness stand that he was scared at the time and regretted the lie.

Prosecutors declined to comment after the verdicts.

The .22-caliber handgun was pressed so firmly against Azrate-Lujan’s head that her hair was tangled around the weapon, and her DNA was found inside the barrel, according to prosecutors, who asked jurors for a verdict of first-degree murder.

Defense lawyers, meanwhile, sought the involuntary manslaughter conviction, calling the shooting a “terrible decision.” They argued that Sandoval, at 16, did not consider the consequences of his actions.

Prosecutors showed jurors a series of text messages in which Sandoval used a derogatory term to describe Azrate-Lujan. But defense attorneys countered with messages from Azrate-Lujan that used the same term to describe Sandoval, arguing that the two were playing with each other.

Defense lawyers acknowledged that Sandoval had lied to police but said he was honest with jurors.

District Judge Douglas Herndon released Sandoval on his own recognizance in the case related to Azrate-Lujan’s death, but the defendant remains in the Clark County Detention Center on an unrelated charge.

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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