GUN DEATHS

03.01.15 11:45 AM ET

Florida Shooter: I Killed A Pregnant Woman. Don't Jail Me.

In an exclusive interview, the man who shot and killed a pregnant woman and her unborn baby last summer says his life has been “hell” since the incident, and contends he shouldn’t go to jail.

A Florida man who shot and killed a pregnant woman and her unborn baby last summer says he should not be prosecuted over her death, and in an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, says he has considered suicide himself, and has gotten rid of every gun he owns.

On July 26, 2014, William DeHayes was showing off his gun collection to Carson Hoover and his wife, Katherine, when DeHayes’ antique revolver fired, fatally striking Katherine in the temple. At the time of the shooting, DeHayes—who had just taken opiates and a muscle relaxer—used a Western-style draw (“like a cowboy would,” he told police) to unholster his grandfather’s hand-me-down firearm. DeHayes didn’t know that the 65-year-old gun—which had a history of misfiring—was loaded. 

As reported by The Daily Beast last week, Katherine’s mother, Donna Bryan, and Carson are citing these extenuating circumstances to fight for DeHayes’ prosecution. Despite the family's pleas to try DeHayes for negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter, state attorney Brad King declined to press charges—stating that DeHayes’ “conduct, no matter how outrageous, does not constitute a crime.” In a letter denying Bryan’s case, King wrote that in Florida, an accidental discharge of a firearm that kills someone—even if it is the result of gross negligence—cannot be prosecuted. Bryan has since retained an attorney of her own, Washington, D.C.-based David Sanford, who told The Daily Beast, “We are keeping all options open, but looking in particular at the decision by the state attorney not to charge Mr. DeHayes with a crime.” Sanford said they are also considering a civil action.  

Speaking to The Daily Beast, DeHayes now says that while he made a terrible mistake, he’s no murderer.

“Do you know what it’s like to accidentally shoot someone in the head?” he asked in a telephone interview Wednesday.

“I have lived through hell ever since. I’ve damn near committed suicide several times. I’ve been seeing doctors and shrinks,” he said. “Now everybody’s pegging me as a killer and a murderer or whatever else they want to say about me. I’m not, OK?”

Noting that Katherine’s death was unintentional, DeHayes thinks the prosecutor made the right call, but stresses that living with his mistake is worse that any punishment the state of Florida might impose.

“There’s a difference between an accident and someone knowingly hurting someone else,” he said. “I’ve learned a lesson. For me not to allow any guns in this house whatsoever, for me to almost commit suicide several times because I knew better—no one has a clue what it’s like to live like that every day.”

When asked whether he had been negligent on the night of the shooting, DeHayes admitted he erred by failing to follow the cardinal rule of firearm safety: Treat every gun as if it is loaded.

“I should have probably checked it,” he said. “I am very familiar with gun safety and I preach it to my wife and everybody. I’ve got no excuses. That’s part of my nightmare every day—knowing that I should have checked it and I didn’t and somebody had to pay the price—not just me.”

While taking responsibility, DeHayes at the same time deflects blame.

“I did not just stand there and point it at her head,” he said. “The gun was pointed out the back of the house, through the back room, nowhere near her, when that gun went off. And that gun has had many problems. The hammer got stuck and I went to holster it and that’s when it went off.”

A lifelong gun owner, DeHayes says he hasn’t touched a firearm since the accident.

“I won’t go anywhere near one,” he said. “I relive that day, July 26, 6:30 p.m., every day, every hour of my life. I hear pops, backfires, people shooting behind me, and I’m scared shitless. I still smell the gunpowder from the gun smoke. I cannot be around them. I’ve gotten rid of every gun I got. And I will not allow any type of gun—even a BB gun—in my house anymore. So, contrary to what her family thinks or Carson thinks, or anybody else thinks, this has ruined my life completely and by [Carson and Bryan] still going, dragging it out when the case is closed, is ridiculous.”

Katherine’s mother told The Daily Beast “no matter what” she won’t halt her petitions for DeHayes’ prosecution to her senators, state Attorney General Pam Bondi, or Governor Rick Scott. DeHayes said that he can understand her pain, but said that targeting him won’t bring justice for Katherine. 

“I’d want revenge, too, but they are going about it all wrong. Everybody is,” DeHayes said. “I have not been the same since. I stick to my room. I don’t look at the kitchen. I don’t go into the kitchen. I go out the back door instead of the front because the front is where they came in. And we’re going to be moving soon.”

“I’d give my life to take it back,” he said.