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Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
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St. Pete woman gets probation in boyfriend’s death

CLEARWATER — Mandy Avis shot and killed her boyfriend in December, and she won’t spend a day in prison for it.

Avis, 20, pleaded guilty today to manslaughter in the Dec. 11 shooting death of her boyfriend, Michael Ward, 23, in St. Petersburg.

Avis initially was charged with manslaughter with a firearm, but the firearm enhancement was dropped as part of a plea bargain between her attorney, Kelly McCabe, and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office.

Avis was sentenced to 15 years of probation, and adjudication of guilt was withheld, according to court documents.

Avis and Ward lived together at 1945 Second Ave. N., and each worked at a Waffle House restaurant, she at the one in St. Pete Beach and he as a cook at one in Tampa, a police report states.

On the day Ward was shot, the couple and their roommate, Ashley Simpson-McAllister, were smoking marijuana from a bong, and Ward had also been drinking some vodka, the report states. There was also another man present.

At one point, all four were sitting on a couch while Ward played with a .22-caliber revolver he recently had acquired from a friend, the report states.

All who were on the couch believed the revolver was unloaded because Ward repeatedly pulled the trigger without anything happening, Assistant State Attorney David Tobiassen said.

Avis, who cooperated with St. Petersburg police, told investigators, “Ward was always handling the gun; cleaning it; cocking the lever back, etc.” She admitted she too handled the weapon but believed it was always unloaded.

Ward got up from the couch with his gun and went to their bedroom, while Avis went into the kitchen to get some Mountain Dew, the report states.

When she went into the bedroom, she told investigators, they began to play around and hug each other, the report states. When they released from their embrace, she saw the gun lying on the bed, the report states.

The report states Avis picked the gun up, pulled the hammer back, pointed it at Ward’s chest and pulled the trigger. As she did so, he shouted that it was loaded, but it was too late.

But McCabe said she found the sequence of events more nuanced than that after talking with her client.

She said Avis was looking down at the gun in her hands, pulling back the hammer, when Ward yelled the firearm was loaded. When she heard him, she instinctively looked up at him, raising the firearm as she did so, while pulling the trigger.

“She thought it was unloaded,” Tobiassen said. “By all accounts, and what was going on immediately before the shooting, she had no reason to believe he had loaded the gun after he went into the bedroom.”

“It was just a horrible tragedy, a classic example of why people not trained in firearms should not be around firearms,” the prosecutor said.

While Avis said the two had been getting along, text messages between them earlier in the day indicated they had been fighting about the imminent arrival of a man who wanted to marry Avis, the report states.

As part of the plea, Avis agreed never to own or handle a firearm, and not to work at a Waffle House, court documents state. Many of those involved, including the victim’s mother, work at Waffle Houses.

Avis also will have a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for the first two years of her probation, with exceptions for school, work or religious activities.

She also agreed not to be the beneficiary of any life insurance policy in Ward’s name, and not to have contact with his mother and father.

Ward’s mother was in the courtroom when Avis pleaded guilty, but did not wish to make a statement, McCabe said. Avis declined, too.

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