By Denise Di Stephan
The father of a 4-year-old boy who fatally shot his 6-year-old Toms River neighbor earlier this year pleaded not guilty in Superior Court on Monday on child-endangerment charges.
Anthony Senatore, 34, appeared before Superior Court Judge Wendel E. Daniels to face five charges of child endangerment in connection with Senatore's son killing Brandon Holt.
The prosecutor's office offered a plea deal to Senatore which, so far, he is not accepting, according to Robert A. Ebberup, an attorney based in Toms River who is representing Senatore.
The plea deal would mean seven years in jail in return for pleading guilty to two child endangerment counts, according to Daniels (and confirmed by Diane Ruberton, first assistant Atlantic County Prosecutor, who was in court on Monday).
Ebberup told reporters in the hallway after the brief arraignment Monday morning that he is not accepting the plea deal and won't even consider it until he has more time to review case material.
Ebberup also told reporters in the hall that his client is extremely upset about the death of Brandon Holt.
"My client is deeply horrified over what took place and feels awful about it," Ebberup said. "His feelings go out to the family. Brandon Holt was a wonderful, wonderful little boy. We just hope he's in Heaven right now. We're sure he is."
Ebberup also told reporters, "This is a civil case. This doesn't belong in a criminal courtroom."
Ebberup told Daniels during the arraignment that he only received the discovery material from the prosecutor's office "less than 15 days ago" and has not had adequate time to review all of it. "Discovery" is evidence in the case that, by law, has to be shared with both sides before a trial begins.
However, Ebberup said that based on his review so far, he is asking the prosecutor's office to provide him with photos, cell phone records, shot gun shells and "copies of search warrant returns that were not fully executed."
Ebberup said that after he has a chance to more thoroughly review all discovery material, he may have additional requests for more information.
Daniels set a pre-trial status conference for 10 a.m. Jan. 27. At that time, the judge noted, Ebberup will have an opportunity to request any additional information and to file motions if he deems that necessary.
Ruberton told Daniels that when she receives from Ebberup a complete list of the requested material, she expects to begin to provide it to him. John Flammer, an assistant Atlantic County prosecutor, is working with Ruberton representing the state.
On April 8, Senatore’s 4-year-old son gained access to what authorities describe as an unsecured .22 caliber rifle in Senatore’s bedroom and fired a single shot, which struck 6-year-old neighbor, Brandon Holt, in the head.
Holt was transported to the Jersey Shore University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead the next day.
Due to familial conflicts, the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office took over the case from Ocean County authorities.
Senatore was charged in the case on May 13.
Authorities charged Senatore with one count of second-degree endangering the welfare of children for each of the five firearms found that investigators say were accessible to his own children, for whom he had a legal duty of care.