By DON O'BRIEN
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
A Quincy man will be sentenced to probation after he pleaded guilty to accidently shooting a friend to death earlier this year.
Zachary W. Ballinger, 21, wept in court Wednesday as he admitted to accidentally killing Austin M. Hermann, 21, during an incident early March 23 at Ballinger's residence on South 24th. Ballinger pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of unlawful possession with intent to deliver cannabis.
As part of the plea agreement reached in the case, Ballinger will be sentenced to probation at his Oct. 17 sentencing hearing before Judge William Mays in Adams County Circuit Court.
Without the negotiation, Ballinger could have been sentenced to up to five years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. This is his first felony conviction.
State's Attorney Jon Barnard said Hermann's family was consulted before the plea negotiation was reached.
"We obtained their input, and they were on board with it," Barnard said. "Probation not only includes the option of jail time, but that is certainly something that is appropriate in this case."
Ballinger was arrested after deputies responded to a call in the 3300 block of South 24th about 5 a.m. March 23. First Assistant State's Attorney Gary Farha said Ballinger told deputies that he had accidently shot Hermann on the porch of the residence.
According to Farha, Ballinger gave a statement to deputies. In the recorded statement, Ballinger said he and Hermann had been out drinking before going to Ballinger's residence to play video games. While they were playing video games, they noticed an AR-15 rifle in the room. They went outside with the rifle, and Ballinger pointed at Hermann, Farha said.
"There was no argument or anything," Farha said. "Ballinger said that he thought the safety was on and didn't think there was a bullet in the chamber."
Hermann was pronounced dead from a single gunshot wound at 5:57 a.m.
Farha said Ballinger gave deputies consent to search the house and they found "a large amount of cannabis" and $19,000 in cash inside.
Friends and relatives of Hermann's filled up one side of the courtroom Wednesday.
Mays could order up to 364 days in jail as part of the sentence. Ballinger spent one night in jail after his arrest. He posted $5,000 bond after making his first court appearance March 24.