• Rod Kackley

The Case of the Cop Who Shot His Daughter


Amanda Petrocelli appeared before St. Isidore County District Judge Raymond Brown with her greasy, blonde hair tied in a ragged ponytail, wearing prison orange, and sporting a gruesome scar that ran from nearly the left side of her nose, across her formerly smooth white cheek, down to her jawbone.

She’d been shot in the face by her father, yet it was Amanda who faced criminal charges.

~

Living in a Las Vegas motel with her husband, David, Amanda had had enough. She could no longer spend a day without her children. Her babies had been taken from her after Amanda and David had been busted for cooking crystal meth in a motel room that was their home back in Michigan.

It had been Amanda’s idea. She’d had dropped the kids off with her parents before running from Michigan with David Petrocelli to Vegas where they were married by an Elvis impersonator. This latest bust made them both three-time losers. Amanda knew she and David were looking at life in prison and the court would take the kids anyway, “So why not just drop them off with Mom and Dad and leave,” she asked David.

And leave they did. Stopping only long enough to steal the occasional car and rob a gas station or two along they way when they needed money, Amanda and David found their way to Las Vegas.

But even when a mother is a criminal and a drug addict; a mother can’t live without her babies. Amanda wanted her children.

She left first in the couple’s car. The idea was to get to her parents’ home in Northern Michigan and wait for David. When he arrived, they would pull guns on Amanda’s father and mother and make off with the kids.

David would need a ride. A few days after Amanda left, rather than hot-wiring a car, which was getting increasingly difficult with the new anti-theft computer systems, David placed an online ad for a gay lover.

Within a few hours, David received a response. Two nights later, a man looking for a few hours of passion lay dead in David and Amanda’s former motel room, and David was on his way to Michigan.

~

James Bradford was expecting trouble. After thirty-five years in the St. Isidore Police Department, he had made many friends in law enforcement and was owed more than a few favors.

One of his old cop-shop buddies had been keeping an eye on Amanda and David for James in Las Vegas. After more than three decades as a police officer, James was trained to expect the worst in people. He was hardly ever disappointed. So he wasn’t surprised that a few days after Amanda showed up on his doorstep his buddy in Vegas called with the news that David was wanted for the murder of a man and the theft of the victim’s car.

“David was last seen heading east,” his cop buddy said. “They lost him in northern Illinois. He might have switched to another car, we don’t know.”

“But, I’ll bet he’s coming my way,” James said.

He could have called the St. Isidore Police Department for backup. James was still a hero to the seven guys and two women who kept the peace in this small city. But he had always been a man who handled trouble on his own, especially family trouble.

So this night James waited in his bedroom, sitting on the bed where Amanda was conceived. His grandchildren, two boys, were asleep. His wife was sleeping soundly in the bed where Amanda had been conceived. Amanda was in her old bedroom.

James was in the basement rec room watching TV. His gun safe was just a few feet away.

Ever since he had heard David might be heading his way, James had kept the key to the safe in his pocket. When he heard a knock at the door, James pulled the key from his pocket and walked to the gun safe, too out two pistols — a .45 caliber and a .380 — and walked up the stairs to the living room.

~

The first shot rang out as James opened the wooden door to the kitchen. Instinctively he dropped into a combat position and returned first. David’s shot missed him by a foot. James returned fire and didn’t miss. David’s shirt was covered with blood.

James pointed a gun in the direction of the sound of the hammer of a revolver being cocked to his left.

It was Amanda. She was pointed a .38 caliber revolver at him. The hammer was cocked. Amanda held the gun with two hands. Her finger was on the trigger.

~

St. Isidore wasn’t the kind of town where cops pulled their guns in self-defense. They never had to go that far to keep the peace. James’ service weapon had only been removed from its holster on the firing range. James had never once squeezed the trigger.

But this night he had to fire twice before Amanda fell. The first slug ripped into his little girl’s face. The second hit the hand that held the revolver.

~

Amanda pleaded guilty to a charge of assault with intent to murder. James was sure that with her record, she’d be sentenced to life without parole, and she was. The St. Isidore County Prosecutor ruled that James had fired his weapon in self-defense. No charges would be filed.

Still, James knew he had sentenced himself to a lifetime of regret.

He had shot his little girl.

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