A jury on Thursday afternoon found a Texas woman guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of her boyfriend in 2018.
Gregoria Elizabeth Baez, 22, was charged with second-degree murder after she shot and killed her longtime boyfriend, 21-year-old Felix Florez of Manhattan, who was a Geary County correctional officer. However, Judge John Bosch told the jury it had the option of convicting Baez guilty of the lesser charge, involuntary manslaughter.
The incident occurred the night of Sept. 22, 2018, at their shared residence at 1420 Vista Lane. Baez claimed the two were joking around and pulled guns on each other when she accidentally disengaged the grip safety on her firearm and shot Florez below his right eye.
Emergency responders that evening took Florez to Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka, where he later died.
Bosch scheduled sentencing for 2:30 p.m. Nov. 12.
Earlier Thursday morning during closing arguments, Assistant Riley County Attorney Kendra Lewison said Baez had enough basic knowledge of gun safety to know that she shouldn’t point a gun at someone when she accidentally shot Florez.
“When you’re holding a gun, you’re holding an awesome power,” Lewison said.
With that, she said, comes a responsibility to know how to properly wield and use a firearm. Someone without that knowledge or discipline to practice it can create dangerous and deadly consequences, Lewison said.
Lewison said Baez had been shooting multiple times before and that she could have read safety manuals that came with guns, signs at shooting ranges she went to or online articles about how to handle them.
Baez initially was charged with involuntary manslaughter, but the prosecution argued that what Baez did was so reckless and with “extreme indifference to human life” that it warranted a more severe charge.
Defense attorney Cole Hawver said there were no good outcomes in a case like this and reminded the jury that the state has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Baez shot Florez consciously, recklessly and with extreme indifference to his life.
On Wednesday, Baez said Florez usually carried his gun on him and would often jokingly unholster and reholster his gun, as well as point it at her, in private.
“I was used to it, and I knew he was playing around,” she said.
Baez said he did this on Sept. 22, when he pointed his gun “directly at her,” a statement which elicited scoffs from some of Florez’s family members in the courtroom.
Baez said she grabbed her gun to be in on the joke, and in the process of raising it, her finger must have pressed on the safety on the handle and pulled the trigger.
Baez said Florez fell to the floor, and his gun fell on the bed. She said she dropped her gun on the bed as well and rushed over to help Florez.
While some of Florez’s family had testified that they had never seen Florez point his firearm at another person and that he practiced safe gun habits, Hawver asked how else his gun would have ended up on the tall bed in between Florez and Baez, something that has been contested during the trial, if he had not raised his arm above his waist and pointed it toward her.
Baez said the incident happened so quickly, she was unsure whether he had set the gun down before she turned around after grabbing the gun or if he had dropped it after he was shot. She said she did not know at the time that the gun was loaded. Prosecutors said it was established that Florez had access to the guns in the house, regularly cared for them and he often kept his guns loaded.
Hawver referred to the 911 call played in court Wednesday that Baez made after she shot Florez to demonstrate that Baez was not indifferent to Florez’s life.
In the audio, a distraught Baez screamed and shouted that she shot Florez and that he was not breathing. At some point, Baez hangs up, which she later testified she did so she could call Florez’s mother. Baez said she rushed to Florez’s side to keep blood out of his mouth and try CPR.
“We have to ask ourselves if that is the behavior of someone who is indifferent to human life,” Hawver said to the jury.
Hawver said the “games” the couple played, in which Florez would unholster his gun jokingly and say, “What did you say?” in response to certain comments, was normal in their relationship, so Baez was not aware of the risks her actions would pose.
Baez testified that she grew up with little to no experience with guns and only learned once Florez taught her.
“I wanted to learn something he did so we could do it together,” she said.
She described their relationship as “good, overall” and said she moved from Texas to Manhattan in 2018 to be with him.
By the September incident, Baez said she had shot a gun 10 to 20 times before and that she had used the particular gun that night only once.
Florez’s father, Gregorio Florez, said after his son’s death, he looked at Baez’s Instagram page and saw old photos of Baez shooting guns on at least two separate occasions. He said he could see Felix’s car in the background and assumed that the two have gone shooting before. He noted that the images were gone later, and Baez said this was because she archived photos of Felix.
One of Florez’s cousins also said Wednesday the couple had gone shooting with him five to six times while they were in Texas and she “appeared comfortable” doing so.