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Farmer was accused of killing a man who ran over his dog. He blames an eggplant

Australian farmer Angelo Russo pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the shooting death of David Calandro, who had run over Russo's dog. Prosecutors alleged that Russo had intentionally killed Calandro. Russo said he slipped on an eggplant.
Australian farmer Angelo Russo pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the shooting death of David Calandro, who had run over Russo's dog. Prosecutors alleged that Russo had intentionally killed Calandro. Russo said he slipped on an eggplant. 9 News Broadcast/Screenshot

"Because this is such a serious case I won't make any jokes about it, but it will loom large, this eggplant," prosecutor Nicholas Papas QC told an Australian court Tuesday in Victoria, The Age reported.

He was leading the charge that 55-year-old Angelo Russo had intentionally shot and killed David Calandro with a shotgun after Calandro allegedly ran over his dog in February 2017.

But Russo and his defense team said the whole thing was an accident, and the real culprit was a loose eggplant that caused Russo to trip and accidentally discharge the gun.

The incident began when Calandro and a friend named Vince Vigliaturo went to Russo's farm to pick up some chiles, 9 News reported. But as Calandro was driving away from the farm, Vigliaturo told the court, Calandro swerved his truck toward the side of the road where Russo's dog was running, hoping to "spook" him, The Age reported.

"David sort of swerved, and swerved away from the dog quickly," Vigliaturo said, according to 9 News. "And that's when it was accidentally run over."

A short time later, Vigliaturo told the court, Russo called him and angrily demanded Calandro return to the farm to "look at what he's done to my f---ing dog," 9 News reported.

Calandro was shot and killed with a shotgun while his two sons sat in the car, according to 9 News. But the facts of the how and why were still in doubt.

Prosecutor Nick Papas said Russo “lost self-control" then went "up to that car with a loaded gun and shot him," the Australian Associated Press reported.

But Russo and his defense lawyer said that's not what happened.

"The shooting was an accident," defense barrister Patrick Tehan declared to the court Wednesday, according to the AAP.

In his police interview, Russo reportedly told investigators "there was an eggplant on the ground there and my foot must have rolled on it," according to the AAP."It happened in a split second ... it was like I was falling and it went 'bang.' "

A photo of an eggplant at the farm shows it scuffed up and torn open at the bottom.

Russo's defense lawyers said Russo was only carrying the shotgun to put down his severely injured dog, reported The Australian. His defense team also claimed that a ballistics expert could testify that a safety switch on the gun was faulty, according to the paper.

In the end, prosecutor Nicholas Papas told the court he could not say "that (Russo) deliberately discharged the weapon," and Russo pleaded guilty to manslaughter, according to The Age.

Russo's lawyer Patrick Tehan said that Russo failed to exercise the right standard of care in handling a firearm but that the shooting was a "truly and completely non-intentional manslaughter," reported The Australian. The justice called the plea "a particularly sensible solution," the paper reported.

Russo will now await a presentencing hearing, the Australian Associated Press reported.

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