PITTSBURGH -- A state senator goes on trial this week for allegedly contributing to the death of a 14-year-old neighbor who was found shot to death in the woods with the senator's handgun.
Sen. Robert Regola III, R-Westmoreland, allegedly let his teenage son possess the gun and did not store it safely. He is also charged with perjury. Jury selection is set to start Monday in Westmoreland County.
State police say Regola told them he had once stored the gun in his son Bobby's room. At a coroner's inquest, the senator testified that he moved the gun to his bedroom weeks or months before Louis Farrell was found dead in July 2006.
Regola, 45, is charged with perjury for denying that Bobby, now 18, ever kept the gun in his room. A teenage friend has said he saw Bobby store and load the gun in his room months before Farrell's death in July 2006.
Regola, a freshman senator running for re-election, could be removed from office if convicted of perjury. And the criminal trial may not end his legal woes, as the Farrell family is weighing a civil suit.
A draft lawsuit echoes pretrial rulings by criminal trial Judge John Blahovec, who this spring upheld charges against the senator, the family's lawyer said.
"His analysis of the inquest testimony and the events are very similar to ours," lawyer Jon Perry said. "That it was negligent, if not reckless, to ask a young man to watch a house that included loaded weapons."
Farrell's father found the boy dead in the woods behind their house on July 22, 2006. He had been shot once in the head. Regola's 9mm Taurus handgun was nearby.
The day before, Louis had watched the Regolas' dog while the senator and his wife were in Harrisburg. Bobby Regola came home late and called his father when he noticed the senator's gun was missing.
Bobby also spoke to Louis on the phone shortly after finding the gun missing.
The Farrells reject the coroner's suicide ruling, and believe he was more likely shot by accident. They also believe that Bobby Regola, a friend, was with him at the time.
Bobby Regola remains on juvenile court probation for illegally possessing the gun as a minor.
Sen. Regola is also charged with false swearing, providing a gun to a minor and reckless endangerment. According to District Attorney John Peck, Regola left the gun stored unlocked and loaded, and did not notify the Farrells or police when he learned it was missing.
Defense attorney Charles Porter said the senator did not store the gun recklessly or lie under oath. But even if Regola did lie, he argues that shouldn't be grounds for perjury because testimony about where the gun was stored was not material to the purpose of the inquest, which was to determine how Farrell died.
Blahovec rejected that argument in letting the charges go to trial, but Porter said Peck faces a higher standard of proof at trial.
"If the judge was looking at it from the same standard as the jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, I'm not sure it would have come out the same," Porter said.