Friday, July 02, 2004
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Prosecutors drop charges against girl

Montgomery County prosecutors dropped a voluntary manslaughter charge against Mandi Carlson, 14.

CHRISTIANSBURG - Prosecutors on Thursday dropped the voluntary manslaughter charge brought against a 14-year-old Christiansburg girl in connection with the shooting death of her 15-year-old friend Edward Bertrand.

The decision came hours before a preliminary hearing was scheduled in the case of Mandi Carlson, who told police that she and 17-year-old Zach Linkous both had their hands on the gun when it went off June 8 in a room off the garage at Carlson's house on Spruce Street. The single shot struck Bertrand, who had finished his last year at Christiansburg Middle School just days earlier, in the stomach. He died hours later at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

"I really can't say I'm surprised by the decision," said defense attorney Max Jenkins, who represents Carlson. "I can't see, really and truthfully, why they brought the charge they did."

Montgomery County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Eric Branscom said he could not comment on the decision because the case, as a whole, is ongoing.

Through nolle prosequi, prosecutors in the case will have the option to reissue arrest warrants at a later date if they deem it appropriate.

Jenkins, however, contends that "horseplay" led to the shooting, and that the event was not an intentional act.

Linkous is still charged with voluntary manslaughter and malicious wounding in connection with the case. Malicious wounding is one of a handful of charges that automatically sends a juvenile into adult court.

Linkous' preliminary hearing also had been scheduled for Thursday, but his attorney, Jimmy Turk, asked that it be continued, and the court has yet to set a new date. Turk said Thursday that he needed more time to prepare for the preliminary hearing and that police have yet to receive test results from evidence sent to the state forensic lab.

That evidence includes the small-caliber handgun used in the shooting. Police spent days searching for the weapon before finding it and ferrying it off to the lab for analysis.

Search warrants issued in the case cite an unnamed source who told police that Linkous had said he needed a gun for protection because he was selling marijuana.

Christiansburg police have not commented on a possible motive for the shooting, and Linkous and Carlson are the only witnesses who know what occurred.

Carlson, who had never been arrested before, was happy to be going home Thursday, Jenkins said.

Linkous remains in custody at the New River Valley Juvenile Detention Center.

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