The mother of Christian Salazar — who was accidentally shot to death by a buddy in a Russian roulette-style game in North Miami Beach nearly two years ago — embraced forgiveness over revenge.
“It's hard. My life completely changed because of this,” Wendy Jaramillo said in a Miami-Dade courtroom on Thursday, turning to defendant Brandon Kyle Lapeikis as he slumped in his chair.
“I can say nothing against him. I hope that God will bless him and give him the strength to move forward.”
With her blessing, Lapeikis pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a firearm, accepting a sentence of 366 days in prison and 10 years of probation.
“I would like to apologize,” Lapeikis tearfully told the family. “I'm still shocked that this happened. I'm extremely sorry.”
The tragedy took place on Dec. 2, 2013, as Salazar, Lapeikis and two friends were watching Monday Night Football inside a bedroom at Lapeikis' North Miami Beach home. The matchup: the New Orleans Saints against the Seattle Seahawks.
Lapeikis, then 19, and Salazar knew each other from high school, and the group was smoking marijuana. The gun belonged to Salazar.
That night, the group was playing a game in which they pointed the empty pistol at one another — and slapped the person if they flinched. They went out for fast-food, but unbeknownst to Lapeikis, Salazar had loaded the pistol.
Later that night, Lapeikis left the room, fetched the weapon, pointed it at Salazar's head. “Game over,” he said as he pulled the trigger.
Lapeikis did not realize the pistol was loaded until it was too late. The bullet pierced his friend’s head. Lapeikis ran to a neighbor’s house and called the police. “I just shot my friend in the head by mistake,” he told dispatchers.
Salazar, 19, was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital, but died the next day.
Lapeikis was initially charged with second-degree murder, a charge later downgraded. He faced up to 20 years in prison had he been convicted at trial, said defense attorney Michael Catalano.
He must also complete 200 hours of community service and faces random drug tests when he leaves prison.
Before he was taken away to jail, Salazar’s aunt said: “We feel sorry for you, too. Do something good for your life when you come out of prison. For Christian. For you.”
Lapeikis nodded his head, solemnly.
“I admire that his family is able to come to court and say that they are not seeking revenge,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Diane Ward told onlookers. “It's a very rare thing in court.”
“In my heart, I never harbored any ill will,” Jaramillo told reporters outside the courtroom. “Often I would think, what would have happened if the situation were reversed? Perhaps, it would be my son who would have been in there and he is better off where he is.
“It's hard, but that's how I feel,” she said, adding that God gave her the strength to forgive her son’s friend. “It's what I was able to do — for him."