By Chris Zoukis

The murder conviction of a former prison guard at the Federal Correctional Institution Lompoc for shooting a co-worker in a drug-fueled incident in 2012 was recently upheld by the California Court of Appeals.

Timothy Sean McNally, then employed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, was tried and convicted in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, for shooting fellow Lompoc guard Gary Bent, a second degree murder offense. The shooting took place in hotel room following a BOP riot control training session, after which the two men had “partied” over two days with alcohol, Vicodin and “bath salts,” a designer drug known as MDVP that is known to mimic the effects of cocaine and methamphetamine.

Evidence at the trial indicated that McNally and Bent were in the hotel room’s bathroom when Bent said he was about to throw up.  McNally reportedly called Bent a “sissy” and pulled his loaded Springfield 9 mm pistol out of a holster and waved it at Bent, ordering him to “Hurry up and puke.” After Bent told McNally to “fuck off,” McNally fired the weapon, severing Bent’s jugular vein.

Instead of calling 911 or administering CPR, McNally paced the room and smoked a cigarette before tossing the spent shell casing in the tub where Bent bled to death. He then sent a text message to a female friend, “Damn. I just shot my friend in the damn neck. He’s fucking dead as fuck. Whoops.” When the friend asked if McNally had called an ambulance, he replied, “No. He’s fucking dead. Why?” He later texted that the event “really just fucked up [his] damn night.” The friend then called police. McNally was arrested after traveling to his father’s house and again discharging his firearm, that time shooting at a door. He admitted shooting Bent to the police, but called it an accident, stating that he and Bent “were drinking and fucking screwing around,” and said, “I don’t know how in the fuck I pulled the trigger.”

At trial, McNally attempted to assert that the discharge of his firearm was accidental.  However, evidence was presented that made such an event unlikely. McNally had served seven years in the U.S. Army, and received regular firearms training as a correctional officer on the prison’s Special Operations Response Team. Further, his pistol was equipped with several safety features that McNally would have to “override” to fire the weapon.

On appeal, the Second Appellate District found that “implied malice” could be found when a defendant points a loaded firearm at another person even in a horseplay situation, and especially when under the influence of alcohol or drugs, noting that “firearms and poor judgment do not mix.”

Former guard McNally was sentenced to a term of 15 years to life, plus ten years for the firearms enhancement.

This article recently appeared in Prison Legal News in October 2016

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).