By Leisa Zigman, I-Team Reporter
ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KSDK) - Was it murder or an accident? A St. Louis crime is making international headlines because it is so shocking and bizarre. The case involves an 18-year-old teen from Ballwin who was shot and killed by an acquaintance.
The acquaintance admits putting a gun to his head, pulling the trigger and killing him.
So why do prosecutors believe it was unintentional?
With sentencing Thursday, the victim's family hopes the judge will ignore a plea agreement and give the shooter between 20 and 30 years in prison.
During a recent court appearance, Matthew Pelligrini's mother heard an exchange between the Judge and suspect that she repeated through tears.
Tami Inkley said, "They asked him if he put the gun against the side of my son's head and he said, 'Yes sir.' And he said 'Did you pull the trigger?' and he said, 'Yes sir.' 'What did you think would happen? And he said he thought it would fall on an empty chamber."
Eighteen-year-old Pellegrini, or "Matty" as he was called, grew up in Ballwin. His slight frame and baby face never stopped him from playing football or baseball or having the courage to walk up to his sports heroes like Cardinals great Ozzie Smith and former Rams quarterback Marc Bulger to ask for a picture.
After graduation from Marquette High School, he went to live with his father in south St. Louis. That is when he fell in with a group his parents did not like. It is how he met Kevin Beindorff.
Inkley is angry that the state is taking Beindorff at his word.
"He showed Matthew the gun and then Beindorff being the only witness claims that Matthew asked for him to shoot him," she said.
No one disputes how Matty died in February 2012. What is in dispute is Beindorff's claims that it was an accident.
"In my opinion, it is an open and shut case," said Angelo Pellegrini, Matthew's father. "He put the gun to Matthew's head and pulled the trigger knowing it was loaded and it could kill him."
Prosecutors first charged Beindorff with second-degree murder. A grand jury indicted him for a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
"The loss of a child is horrific. But to hear that he put it up to his head and pulled the trigger and claims I thought it would hit an empty chamber? Maybe he should have tested it on himself first?" Inkley said. "That is how I look at that. If that's what you believe you should have tried it out on you and see how that works out for you. Because didn't work out so well for my son."
Beindorff's plea deal would give him seven years for manslaughter and three years for armed criminal action, which would run concurrently. With time served, he could be out in three to four years.
Pellegrini's parents hope the judge in the case will give him 20 to 30 years in prison and ignore the plea agreement.
According to a spokesperson for Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, in order to get a conviction for murder, prosecutors would have to prove beyond any doubt that Beindorff intended to kill Matthew.
In a statement, Joyce said, "While the impact of this tragedy on Mr. Pellegrini's family has been tremendous, under our legal system charging decisions are made by objective prosecutors based on the evidence available and the application of the laws of the State of Missouri."
Matty's parents take comfort in knowing their son saved a lot of lives when he donated his organs.
Inkley explained, "He saved four St. Louisans' lives. One woman got his lungs and she did send a letter saying thank you. She can now pick up her grandchild."
Two people received his kidneys and another person received his liver. In addition, several people received skin and bone tissue donations.
Ten days ago, about 75 friends, family, and former teachers braved rain and cold temperatures to dedicate a park bench at Vlasis Park in Ballwin.
Beindorff's sentencing is April 11. At that time, Judge Edward Sweeney will decide whether the plea agreement is satisfactory. The judge can accept the agreement. He could also reject the agreement and give him up to life in prison under the armed criminal action charge. Beindorff could then choose to go to trial if he doesn't like the sentence the judge assigns.
What do you think? Was it murder or an accident?
Please leave your opinion in the comments section beneath this report.
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