PITTSFIELD - A man who gave a loaded gun to his suicidal friend to "snap her out of it" and then watched in shock as she killed herself has been sentenced to up to five years in prison for his role in her death.
Christopher Burda, 46, was ordered Friday to serve between four and five years in prison after being convicted Tuesday of involuntary manslaughter for the November 2005 suicide of Nancy Choquette of Stamford, Vt.
Burda, a lighting company owner with no previous criminal record, wiped away tears throughout his sentencing, then apologized to Choquette's family and his own.
"My deepest condolences and most heartfelt apologies," he said haltingly, often trailing off to regain his composure. "I had a much better speech, apology, if you want, but that's really all I can get through at this point."
Burda told police that Choquette, his former employee, was visiting his North Adams home on the night of her 51st birthday when she became despondent over marriage problems, her father's death, and other difficulties.
When she threatened suicide, he said he tried "calling her bluff" by retrieving and loading a 9mm Beretta he had purchased from her late father. Choquette lifted it to her head and killed herself just a few feet from him.
He told police her last words were, "I'm going to do it, and you're going to watch."
Prosecutors said throughout the trial that Burda should have known Choquette was too distraught and intoxicated to be trusted with a loaded weapon, especially one with such emotional significance.
Berkshire Second District Attorney Joan McMenemy said Burda added to his culpability by reloading the gun with three fresh bullets when it failed to fire on Choquette's first try. McMenemy said that decision defied logic when he could instead have called 911 or sought other help.
"A loaded handgun in her hand at that time virtually guaranteed she would succeed," McMenemy said Friday.
Superior Court Judge John Agostini's sentence was lower than the 10 to 15 years sought by prosecutors. Agostini said he weighed Burda's lack of criminal history, the fact that alcohol and other factors were involved, and the knowledge that nothing would comfort Choquette's and Burda's families.