GREENSBURG, Pa. - State Sen. Robert Regola surrendered yesterday on charges he improperly stored a handgun that wound up in the hands of a 14-year-old neighbor who fatally shot himself, and then lied about it at a coroner's hearing.
Regola, 44, was arraigned on charges of perjury, false swearing, reckless endangerment and illegal possession of a weapon by a minor in the death of Louis Farrell, who was friends with Regola's son Bobby.
"It appears the senator came into that hearing with the intention of clouding the testimony, if not derailing the investigation, about how that weapon would come into Louis' possession," Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said. "In doing so, he contradicted prior statements he gave to state police."
Farrell's body was found on July 22 in woods behind his and Regola's homes. Farrell had a key to Regola's house so he could care for pets while the lawmaker was in Harrisburg.
Regola has denied that he or Bobby, 17, had anything to do with Farrell's finding or using the gun.
Regola did not comment yesterday, but his lawyer, Duke George, said the senator was innocent and would not resign. Regola, a freshman Republican, would automatically have to surrender his Senate seat if he was convicted and sentenced for perjury.
"It's a piece of paper with an allegation. Nothing more, nothing less," George said of the criminal complaint.
The coroner ruled that Farrell committed suicide, a finding that the boy's family disputes. They say they believe that Bobby Regola was present when Farrell was shot once in the head and knows more than what he told police last year, Farrell family lawyer Jon Perry said. Perry believes the boy was shot during horseplay, but not purposely.
Peck, the prosecutor, said that the investigation remained open and that he had no immediate plans to file more charges against anyone. Peck said he could not legally discuss whether charges would be filed against Bobby Regola because he was a minor.
Police said Regola stored the handgun in Bobby Regola's room in the months before the shooting. It is illegal for a gun owner to let a minor possess or control a weapon he owns, authorities said.
Police contend that the senator was lying when he testified at the coroner's inquest that he never stored the gun in his son's room and that he never told that to state troopers.
Regola's attorney said the inquest was unfair because lawyers did not have a chance to cross-examine witnesses.
"What you heard at this coroner's inquest was a distorted picture of what happened," said George.