Wendy and Kansas Lavarnia were charged with first-degree murder in March 2017 after their 9-year-old son Landen was fatally shot in the head at their Phoenix home.
The Lavarnias said the shot was fired by their 2-year-old son.
At the time, they didn’t explain how Kansas was shot in the arm, though he told The Arizona Republic in June that the bullet that killed Landen passed through Kansas’ arm first and a bullet fragment struck the boy, who was playing video games.
The Lavarnias called the death an accident. Prosecutors at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office called it murder.
In effect, who shot the gun didn’t matter.
Husband and wife were both charged with first-degree felony murder, meaning that prosecutors say the child died during the commission of another felony, specifically child abuse for leaving a gun within a child’s reach and then failing to seek immediate medical attention.
But the case has also shattered into fragments, and on Monday, an attorney for Wendy Lavarnia asked that the case be sent back to a Maricopa County grand jury for the fourth time, claiming evidence in her favor was kept from earlier juries that brought up indictments.
In the motion filed July 9, her attorney, Clare Schum, alleged that prosecutors failed to tell the grand jury that none of Wendy Lavarnia’s DNA was found on the gun, disputing allegations by police, prosecutors and her late husband that she was the person who left the gun within the child’s reach. Kansas Lavarnia’s DNA was found on the gun, according to the motion
The motion also alleged that a Phoenix police detective who testified before the grand jury misrepresented how much latent blood was detected on the floor of the master bedroom where the boy fell, and that he gave them misleading information about how much gunshot residue was found on the 2-year-old’s hands. There was none on Wendy Lavarnia’s hands, according to the motion, bolstering the theory that the child fired the fatal shot.
The murder charge was dropped against Kansas Lavarnia, but he still was charged with child abuse. Last month, however, on Father’s Day, he died of an apparent heroin overdose.
His attorney, and the attorney representing Wendy Lavarnia, believe he killed himself out of remorse and anguish, but the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office has not yet ruled on the cause or manner of the death. Prior to his death, Kansas Lavarnia told The Republic he had a history of drug abuse.
Now, all charges against Kansas Lavarnia have been dropped, without prejudice, as is the custom of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. “Without prejudice” means charges could be refiled at some point, even though Kansas Lavarnia is dead.
Wendy Lavarnia was back in court Wednesday for a routine status conference.
Schum asked Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Cari Harrison to either dismiss the case or remand it to the grand jury for further consideration of the withheld evidence. Harrison recently inherited the case from Judge Jose Padilla, who has been rotated to a new assignment.
A spokesperson for the County Attorney’s Office said the agency had no comment on the motion.
The Phoenix mother sounded frantic as she explained how her 9-year-old son, Landen Lavarnia, was shot March 20, 2017, inside their home. But police say the 911 call was a farce.
At about 3 p.m. on March 20, 2017, Wendy Lavarnia called 911 to report the shooting inside her Phoenix home.
She told police she had momentarily left a 9mm handgun on a bed and her 2-year-old son picked it up when she wasn’t looking and fired it, striking Landen in the head. Landen died at a hospital the next day.
Initially, the couple told Phoenix police that Kansas Lavarnia was out shopping and only returned home several hours later. However, he had an unexplained bullet wound in his left arm and police said it looked as if he had stabbed himself with a screwdriver to disguise the wound.
Later, the couple said, Kansas Lavarnia had fled because he had felony convictions for drugs and burglary and could not possess firearms. He did not talk to police.
In June, Kansas Lavarnia described the shooting to The Republic. He said that he had just awakened from a nap and was sitting on the edge of the bed. Landen was seated in front of him to his right, playing the video game “Call of Duty” on a large-screen television.
“I didn’t know there was a gun behind me,” Kansas Lavarnia said.
But a shot hit him in the back upper part of his left arm and the fragments exited his arm in several places, causing the wounds police attributed to a screwdriver, he said.
He and Landen both fell. Then he saw the younger boy holding the gun and crying, he said.
But he stuck to the story that Wendy Lavarnia had left the gun on the bed.
“She left a gun out. It was stupid,” he said. “But it was an accident.”
The current motion and its DNA evidence dispute whether she had even handled the gun.
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