SWEETWATER COUNTY– Stephen Jeffrey Taranovich, 42, was sentenced Tuesday to 40 to 50 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter, life on parole, for the death of his girlfriend. Taranovich was also charged a $1,945 fee.
Taranovich was originally charged with Involuntary Manslaughter for the death of his girlfriend, Danielle Nichole Martin, 43, on January 28, 2018. Taranovich said he accidentally shot Martin in the back of the head with a .40 caliber pistol.
Taranovich Pleads Guilty to Involuntary Manslaughter
In April, Sweetwater County Attorney Daniel Erramouspe filed a motion to have the charges refiled as Second-Degree Murder after new evidence emerged.
At this time, Erramouspe also filed to seek enhanced sentencing under the habitual criminal statute, which carried a maximum life sentence in prison. Taranovich had three prior felony convictions in New York and Florida for drugs and auto theft.
On Tuesday, October 2, Taranovich plead guilty for Involuntary Manslaughter as part of a plea agreement. For the plea agreement, the state agreed to placed a cap at 40 to 50 years in prison.
The minimum sentence for Involuntary Manslaughter is 10 years, rather than the minimum 20-year sentence for Second-Degree Murder.
About the Case
On January 28, the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of a shooting at 113 Pyramid Drive, the residence of Stephen Ray Kiskis.
According to the 911 call, Taranovich told Dispatch that he had accidentally shot Martin about 30 minutes prior to calling. He said he called his mom before calling 911.
Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Todd Poppie was first on the scene and reported that when he arrived, Taranovich and Kiskis were outside the home. He said Taranovich was talking on the phone (with dispatch), smoking a cigarette, and holding a Mountain Dew, which footage from his body camera confirmed.
When Corporal Poppie found Martin’s body, he pronounced her Dead On Arrival (DOA) immediately, as he touched her leg with his foot and she was already in “rigour”, meaning she was already “stiff”.
This indicated that Martin had been deceased for a while, discrediting Taranovich’s claim that he shot Martin 30 minutes prior to calling 911. Later investigation placed the call about three to four hours after the shooting.
Several witnesses were called to the stand to help explain what went on January 28.
Jerry Joseph Romero said he was in the room with Taranovich, Kiskis, and Martin when the shooting happened. Romero reported that they were staying up all night, using methamphetamine, and partying at Kiskis’ residence.
Romero reported that Taranovich was messing around with an illegally obtained Smith & Wesson M&P Shield .40 caliber pistol. Taranovich dry fired the gun at Martin and Martin kept telling him to stop, causing them to argue. According to Romero, Taranovich dry fired at Martin three times.
Approximately 15 minutes after the argument, Romero said Taranovich fired the gun and shot Martin in the back of the head. Romero said he ran out the residence right after, as he feared for his own life.
Romero told the courtroom that the shooting was “probably an accident,” and that he did not believe Taranovich knew there was a bullet in the chamber of the gun.
Taranovich and Kiskis left the residence soon after the shooting to go to another friend’s residence, where they stayed for about two to three hours and used methamphetamine.
“Not a Violent Person”
Margaret Hamil, Taranovich’s mother, said when her son called her on January 28, he told her Martin was dead and that he had accidentally shot her.
Hamil asked him why he didn’t call the police, and he said he wanted to talk to his mom first. Taranovich also told Martin that he wanted to die and wanted to kill himself. She told him to not doing anything to himself and to hang up and call the police.
She said she believed Taranovich left the scene to do drugs because he thought doing more drugs would kill him. She said he seemed to be in shock.
Hamil told the courtroom her son is “not a violent person”. She said Taranovich is remorseful for what he did. She also said she wanted her son to have the opportunity to reenter society after serving his time and live without the drugs. She asked that her son be treated for drug use.
“I know that my son has got to pay. This was a terrible, terrible, terrible accident. I know that Danielle is gone. This is something he has to live with,” Hamil said. She asked that Martin’s family “please forgive” Taranovich, and that he loved Martin and would never do this on purpose.
Martin’s parents and two of her three children made victim statements at the sentencing on Tuesday. Erramouspe read Martin’s parents statements to the court.
Martin’s father said “my family is forever broken” and that Taranovich’s action of leaving Martin four hours after shooting her showed “zero compassion”. He said Martin did not deserve to die and requested Taranovich serve the maximum penalty.
Martin’s 15-year-old son said that his mom was his best friend and that he didn’t know what he was going to do without her in his life. He said he loved Taranovich but it would take him a long time to forgive him.
Taranovich’s defense argued throughout the witness testimonies and closing argument that Taranovich was extremely irresponsible but that he did not intentionally kill Martin.
During Erramouspe’s closing argument, he said that the second rule of gun safety is sometimes said as “don’t point the gun at anything unless you’re willing to destroy it”. He said that dry firing at Martin had become a game for Taranovich and that he was enjoying it.
He said this is not about a gun going off or about drugs. Erramouspe said there are thousands of guns and drug addicts in Sweetwater County, and they are not all killing people. He said because of Taranovich’s previous felonies, he shouldn’t have had a gun, and that his previous felonies made him a habitual criminal.
Judge Nena James said her job was to sentence Taranovich for involuntary manslaughter, not to decide if the shooting was intentional or not. Judge James said this is a case of recklessness, and Taranovich’s actions were the “height of recklessness”. She said Taranovich’s actions were more than irresponsible.
Though Judge James did not doubt Taranovich was remorseful for the death of Martin, she said the time between the shooting and the 911 call was “bothersome” to her.
“I just don’t know how you can do something like that and leave for four hours, and leave the victim lying like that,” Judge James said. “Where is the humanity in that?”
As a judge, she said it is her responsibility to protect the public, and with Taranovich’s fascination with guns and drugs, and his pattern of criminal behavior makes him a “pretty dangerous person”.
Judge James sentenced Taranovich to 40 to 50 years in prison, life on parole.
“I believe it’s the appropriate sentence,” she said.
Taranovich was credited 254 days for his pre-sentence incarceration.