Anthony Senatore, of Toms River, was arraigned on six counts of child endangerment. He rejected a plea bargain that would have required him to serve seven years in prison.
The 34-year-old Senatore is accused of keeping the loaded .22-caliber rifle unsecured in his bedroom. That's where his son found it in April, took it outside and shot 6-year-old Brandon Holt once in the head.
Senatore and his kept their backs to the media outside the Ocean County courtroom while his attorney Robert Ebberup spoke for them. Ebberup, says Senatore is "deeply horrified over what took place and feels awful about it."
"His feelings go out to the family," Ebberup said. "Brandon Holt was a wonderful, wonderful little boy. We just hope that he's in heaven right now; we're sure he is."
But the lawyer said Senatore should not have been charged with a crime.
"This is a civil case," he said. "This does not belong in a criminal courtroom."
The state wants Senatore to go to prison. The accident happened last April. Police say the 4-year old took the shotgun outside, aimed it at his playmate's head and fired. Holt died the next day.
The Holt family was not in court, but friends of theirs were, to see Senatore answer the charges.
After rejeting the prosecution's plea offer, Senatore plans to proceed toward trial, his lawyer said.
"We don't feel that jail is something that is appropriate," Ebberup. .
The Toms River neighborhood where the tragedy happened has seen change. The Senatores moved away with their three kids.
The Holts still live there, and ribbons tied along the street to remember Brandon remain. But not much children's laughter is heard now, according to one neighbor, who said, "It's very quiet. You don't hear the kids playing outside like you used to."
Senatore, who faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on all counts, did not speak during the hearing. He remains free on bail, and his next court date is Jan. 27th.