Ex-candidate, TV anchor Sonya Heitshusen ordered to take safety class in reckless gun handling case
An unsuccessful state legislative candidate and former Des Moines-area TV reporter and anchor has been ordered to complete a firearm safety class after being convicted of mishandling a handgun.
Sonya Heitshusen, a Democrat who challenged Republican Rep. David Young in the 2022 election for West Des Moines-centered House District 28, was charged in June 2022 with reckless use of a firearm after police said she accidently fired a shot through a sliding glass door in her home.
Heitshusen, who spent a combined total of nearly 28 years as a reporter at WOI-TV, then as a reporter and news anchor at WHO-TV, is now communications director for Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand's office. She said in a statement last year she has guns in the home due to a history of threats against her as a journalist and political candidate, and that "an accidental discharge of the firearm occurred" as she was checking one of the weapons.
Court denies motion to dismiss gun charge
In court filings, Heitshusen had sought dismissal of the charge, arguing that an accidental discharge is not an "intentional discharge" under the relevant law.
But a judge in January denied that motion, ruling that based on her statements to police, a jury could find she had intentionally pulled the trigger.
For subscribers:Gun safety taught at Iowa schools? How a bipartisan bill could make it happen
Sentenced to probation, classes
Court records show Heitshusen on Thursday pleaded to a reduced charge of reckless use of firearm with no injury or property damage, a simple misdemeanor. Judge Erica Crisp granted Heitshusen a deferred judgment, ordering her to serve one year of probation and pay a $105 penalty.
According to court records, she also must complete an online gun safety course as a condition of her probation.
Sonya Heitshusen maintains innocence
Heitshusen entered what is called an Alford plea, meaning she maintained her innocence but conceded the state had sufficient evidence to convict her and wished to take advantage of the plea deal.
"Ms. Heitshusen maintains her innocence. In particular, she maintains that this was an accident and in no way intentional," defense attorney Grant Woodard said in a statement emailed to the Register. "That said, she is pleased that this matter is now behind her."
Trial approaching in WHO lawsuit
In addition to the firearm charge, Heitshusen also is the plaintiff in a long-running civil case against WHO-TV owner Nexstar Media Group Inc. Heitshusen sued the station for age and gender discrimination in 2021, alleging WHO fired her due to widespread bias against placing older women in on-air positions. The company has denied wrongdoing and the case is scheduled for trial in July.
From 2020:‘I immediately thought it must be the way I look,’ Sonya Heitshusen says of leaving WHO
William Morris covers courts for the Des Moines Register. He can be contacted at email@example.com, 715-573-8166 or on Twitter at @DMRMorris.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Former Iowa TV anchor Heitshusen pleads to reckless use of firearm