TOMS RIVER - The father of a 4-year-old boy who shot and killed a 6-year-old neighbor with his father's unsecured gun rejected a plea bargain this morning that would have required him to serve seven years in prison.

Anthony Senatore, of Toms River, pleaded not guilty to six counts of child endangerment.

The 34-year-old Senatore is accused of keeping a loaded .22-caliber rifle unsecured in his bedroom. That's where his 4-year-old son found it in April, took it outside, and shot 6-year-old Brandon Holt once in the head.

Senatore's lawyer, Robert Ebberup, says Senatore is "deeply horrified over what took place and feels awful about it." But the lawyer says Senatore should not have been charged with a crime, saying the case belongs in civil court.

"My position right now is we don't feel like jail right now is something that's appropriate at this point," Ebberup says.

Prosecutors say Senatore had four additional unsecured firearms, stored near bullets, and in the presence of his children aged 4, 8 and 12 years old. The children remain in the custody of Senatore and his wife.

If convicted on all charges, Senatore faces up to 55 years in prison. Prosecutors had asked him to plead guilty in exchange for a seven-year sentence, but the defense refused the deal, maintaining that it was a terrible accident that has hurt both families involved.