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The parents of a Lake Worth, Fla., man currently on trial for a 1998 triple murder are facing their own legal troubles in connection with the crime. Anita Charest, the mother of one of the murder victims, Charlotte Kenyon, has filed a lawsuit in Palm Beach Circuit Court against Donald and Marcella Chamberlain, alleging they were negligent in storing the .45 caliber handgun that police say was used in the crime. The lawsuit, filed last November, claims the gun was stored in the trunk of the Chamberlains’ 1988 Lincoln Continental. Their 22-year-old son, John, who lived with his parents, often borrowed the car, and did so on the night of the killings. The Chamberlains, the plaintiff says, failed to take proper precautions to prevent their gun from being used to commit a felony. According to the suit and depositions taken from the suspects, the Chamberlains’ .45 was used in the slaying of the 27-year-old Charlotte Kenyon and two other people in West Palm Beach. It later was destroyed. John Chamberlain faces three counts of first-degree murder, as well as burglary and assault charges. His trial before Circuit Judge Marvin U. Mounts began Feb. 5. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death. Prosecutors allege that Chamberlain, Jason Dascott and Tommy Thibault tried to steal hot merchandise from Daniel Ketchum, who was living with Kenyon and Bryan Harrison. Kenyon and her two roommates were killed. Dascott and Thibault have pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and are awaiting sentencing. Harrison’s parents filed a similar lawsuit last fall against the Chamberlains in Palm Beach Circuit Court. The Harrisons’ attorney, sole practitioner Brian W. Smith of West Palm Beach, did not return calls seeking comment. The civil action is the latest in a series of lawsuits around the country that seek to hold gun manufacturers and owners liable for crimes in which they are not personally involved. In December, the handgun industry won a major victory when a federal judge in Philadelphia dismissed a suit filed by the city of Philadelphia and five gun control groups. The suit alleged that gun makers created a public nuisance by negligently distributing their products. Miami-Dade County also sued gun manufacturers in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, using similar arguments. That suit was dismissed in December 1999 but is on appeal. The Chamberlains’ attorney, Geoffrey Burdick of West Palm Beach, says he is relying on the theories of negligence and negligent entrustment. These also were the grounds for several lawsuits filed by the families of victims of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado against the families of the two teenage killers. Negligent entrustment means that an individual permitted someone else to use his property for an act that led to property damage, injuries or death. The Columbine cases are still being litigated. But Burdick also argues in the Charest suit that the Chamberlains were negligent in failing to install a trigger or safety lock on the gun. Moreover, he contends, they were negligent by giving their son the keys to the car and the trunk, where the gun was stored. “By their actions, defendants effectively placed the firearm in the custody and control of John Chamberlain,” the suit states. “As a result of defendants’ acts and negligent entrustment, Charlotte Kenyon was fatally wounded.” But Burdick is still trying to locate the Chamberlains, who haven’t yet responded to the suit. He says that they’ve been moving around the state to avoid litigation. He says he’ll seek the maximum damages allowable under the Chamberlains’ homeowner insurance policy, which he argues should cover this situation. Burdick hopes his suit will persuade gun owners to store their weapons more securely. “People have to understand that these lapses in judgment can have terrible consequences,” he says.

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