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Father Of 4-Year-Old Boy Who Fatally Shot Playmate In N.J. Pleads Not Guilty

TOMS RIVER, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The father of a 4-year-old boy, who shot to death a 6-year-old neighbor with his father's unsecured gun, has rejected a plea bargain that would have required him to serve seven years in prison.

Anthony Senatore, 34, of Toms River pleaded not guilty in state Superior Court Monday to six counts of child endangerment.

N.J. Father Of 4-Year-Old Boy Who Shot Playmate Pleads Not Guilty

Senatore is accused of keeping a loaded .22-caliber rifle unsecured in his bedroom. That's where his son found it in April, took it outside, and shot 6-year-old Brandon Holt once in the head.

Brandon Holt
Brandon Holt (CBS 2)

Defense attorney Robert Ebberup said his client is "deeply horrified over what took place and feels awful about it," but said Senatore should not have been charged with a crime.

"This is a civil case, this doesn't belong in the criminal courtroom," Ebberup said.

Senatore did not speak during the hearing.

Prosecutors have offered Senatore a plea deal in which he would serve seven years in state prison. He rejected that offer and plans to proceed toward trial, his lawyer said.

"We don't feel that jail is something that is appropriate,'' Ebberup said.

Senatore faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

"Brandon Holt was a wonderful, young little boy, we just hope that he's in heaven right now; we're sure he is," Ebberup said.

In addition to the gun used in the shooting, Senatore is charged with keeping five other guns unsecured in his house, where prosecutors said they were accessible to his children, ages 12, 8 and 4.

Holt's family has filed a lawsuit against Senatore and his wife seeking more than $1 million, claiming their actions were reckless.

The Holts were not presents in court Monday.

Though Toms River is in Ocean County, the prosecutor's office in neighboring Atlantic County is handling the case at the direction of the state attorney general's office. The switch was made because several members of Senatore's family have worked in law enforcement in Ocean County.

The next hearing in the case was scheduled for Jan. 27.

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