Oregon Hunter Acquitted In Killing Of Marine Reservist Who He Misstook For Bear

220px-Canadian_Rockies_-_the_bear_at_Lake_Louise180px-Edit_4x_rifle_scopeWe have another ruling in a hunting accident case. I have previously written columns and blogs about the different treatment generally afforded to killings committed by hunters. In Salem, Oregon, Eugene Collier, 68, was acquitted of manslaughter in the killing of Marine reservist Christopher Ochoa, 20, after mistaking him for a bear. We previously discussed the case.


The jury only took two hours to acquit Collier. Collier was with his 12-year-old grandson when he shot at what he thought was a bear and killed Ochoa with a .270-caliber bullet. Prosecutors insisted that Collier acted recklessly and disregarded the obvious risks of such a shot. He was accused of not taking more time to observe the target. The men were trespassing at the time that Ochoa was shot, but prosecutors insisted that Collier should have considered that possibility that the target was not a bear. Collier had taken Vicodin, a drug for pain, the night before.

It is common in hunting areas for juries to be sympathetic to hunters in such cases. Oregon Code Section 163.118 defines manslaughter in the first degree as an act “committed recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” Jurors appear reluctant to declare a hunter reckless in taking a shot without spending longer to confirm the target. Consider Maine hunter Donald Rogerson. Mistaking a 37-year-old housewife for a white-tailed deer, Rogerson shot and killed her. Locals insisted that the victim (who had recently moved from Iowa) was to blame because she was wearing white mittens during deer season. And a Bangor, Maine, jury cleared him of manslaughter.

The family now has the option to sue Collier for wrongful death in tort under the lower standard of proof, though we have been the same sympathetic approach of juries in civil cases in hunting areas.

The jury clearly did not believe it was reckless not to confirm that it was a bear that you are shooting at rather than a blur. Clearly Collier did not see a bear but a hiker. Yet, that was found not to be reckless. What do you think?

Source: Statesman

39 thoughts on “Oregon Hunter Acquitted In Killing Of Marine Reservist Who He Misstook For Bear

  1. This is the disadvantage of juries: they allow their biases to overcome their good sense.

    How can hunting communities acquit these men? I grew up in a forested area with both bear and cougar, yet my Dad taught us you never fire a gun unless you know exactly what you’re firing at.

    Evidently they don’t believe the same thing in Maine or Oregon.

  2. Shelley is right, you dont take a shot until you know for a fact what you are shooting. It is right after dont ever point a gun at a human being or maybe it is before.

    Based on that and the mans age, I would have thrown him in jail for at least a couple of years and taken away his license to hunt for the rest of his life.

  3. Guy accidentally shoots his hunting buddy so he takes him to the ER. Pacing frantically he finally see the ER doctor coming toward him
    How is he doc? Will he pull through?
    Well, you know the odds would have been better if you hadn’t gutted him before you brought him in!

    Thought I’d get a pointless stupid comment in before one of the dogs shows up

  4. It would seem reasonable to me that Collier should be banned from owning a firearm and be banned from hunting for life. That’s a joke son. Sh*t happens doesn’t it and hunting is a way of life.

  5. Based on that and the mans age, I would have thrown him in jail for at least a couple of years and taken away his license to hunt for the rest of his life.

    I don’t think that was an option under Oregon’s sentencing laws, which as I understand it, require a ten year mandatory minimum for first degree manslaughter (“Measure 11″). I wonder if juries, knowing the state has fairly high mandatory minimums (having passed by ballot measure) are less likely to convict when you have a case that’s atypical and they know the sentence is likely to be high (and this probably isn’t the typical first-degree manslaughter case).

  6. Hunting accident. Assumed risk when you enter the woods. Nothing to see here. Tragic accident. Yes the hunter was an idiot for not making sure what his target was. But I think its safe to say the guy was probably in camo instead of wearing a bright orange vest

  7. Tragic case, but I doubt that throwing a 68 y/o man in prison for years is going to do anyone any good. Acquit for the criminal case and find negligent for the wrongful death case.

  8. This was a shameful verdict. All hunters are supposed to identify their target prior to shooting. There is no (NO) basis under which a person who shoots a person he mistakes for an animal should be acquitted of a negligent manslaughter charge.

  9. Why the mention of taking Vicodin the night before? Off-handed comments like this, which would appear to have NOTHING to do with the case, are unnecessarily inflammatory. I am a pain patient who requires this type of medication to lead a halfway normal life. I already fear losing access to this lifesaving therapy, mainly due to the large illicit abuse of it. Comments like the above don’t help either.

  10. As a hunter, I am outraged at this verdict. It is the responsibility of the hunter to know what he is shooting at. It should be an open and shut case and it is especially absurd since the hunter was ILLEGALLY on the property to begin with. This is why I only hunt on leased land where I know who is where and that no other hunters are around.

    A friend of mine went hunting one time on public land in East Texas, the most backward part of the state if that is possible. He hooked up with a gruop which spent the night before drinking and getting wildy drunk. The next morning they went hunting with most of the party still drunk or severely hung over. Glen said that he was truly scared, and vowed that was the last time he would ever do that. A single hunter or two would more than likely have been shot on sight with that group. If they had shot a person, the hunters also would have been acquited by a jury in that part of the state.

  11. Michael, Even if the 12 year old pulled the trigger, and that’s certainly a possibility, grandpa was still the adult and the one responsible. Terrible burden to put on a kid but let’s hope he learned a lesson.

    Case in PA where a man and his best? friend went hunting. BF shoots and kills man. Awhile later friend marries man’s wife. Case reopened and bf charged. Never did find out what happened. Maybe I’ll look it up.

  12. The shooting was not an accident. What he killed was. While the article seems to indicate that the shooter was on property that he partially owned, there was no information if the victim was on the shooters property. There was also no information in the source article concerning the shooter’s claim that the victim was on all fours. Something smells fishy to me. I hope the victim’s family can collect something in a civil suit because this shooter was negligent, to say the least.

  13. “It should be an open and shut case and it is especially absurd since the hunter was ILLEGALLY on the property to begin with.”

    JT’s post is ambiguous, but if you read the source article, it is clear that the hunter was on his property and the victim was the one who was trespassing.

  14. The internet is a wonderful thing. The case I mentioned, attorney Martin Dillon was killed by Dr. Stephen Scher. Dillon’s death was ruled accidental at the time. Within 2 years Scher was divorced and remarried to Dillon’s widow. Dillon’s family eventually hired a crime scene reconstruction expert who provided enough evidence for Dillon to be exhumed. A new autopsy determined that Dillon couldn’t have shot himself as Scher had claimed. 20 years after the event Scher was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. There was a successful appeal that Scher’s rights were violated by the length of time between the deed and the arrest. That was overturned. Dillon’s widow/Scher’s wife was convicted of perjury in claiming that she wasn’t having an affair with Scher at the time. She got probation and community service. Scher is serving life in prison.

  15. A woman hunter in Wisconsin accidentally mistook a young moose for a deer and killed it. She reported it to the DNR. The moose had made its way into the area from the upper peninsula but wasn’t native to the area. At first, the DNR said no problem. Then they did a turn around and fined her thousands of dollars and took away her hunting privileges for several years. This was for accidentally killing an animal. Seems there should be some punishment for killing a human.

  16. Karen Wood’s death by hunter in Maine was such a travesty that the town was passionately divided about the pro-hunter verdict. It didn’t matter that she was in her yard in a residential development and that the hunter was on a thin strip of land between properties where Maine law states only that you have to be 300 feet from a house (not taking the size of the yard into account). The judgment of the hunter was not in question. It was blame the victim. She had dashed out of her house wearing a coat and white mittens. “She should have known better” even though she had just moved into her new house from out-of-state. http://www.nytimes.com/1989/09/10/magazine/a-killing-in-maine.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

    Interesting that South Africa, which is bringing Oscar Pistorius to trial for shooting his girlfriend, doesn’t use a jury but relies upon the determination of the judge, ostensibly to eliminate emotional bias of a jury. While I’m not crazy about that system in general, there are times when it could provide a more just verdict. If you shoot a human even accidentally, there should be some legal ramifications.

  17. ” In Salem, Oregon, Eugene Collier, 68, was acquitted of manslaughter in the killing of Marine reservist Christopher Ochoa, 20, after mistaking him for a bear. We previously discussed the case.

    The jury only took two hours to acquit Collier. Collier was with his 12-year-old grandson when he shot at what he thought was a bear and killed Ochoa with a .270-caliber bullet.”

    ********************

    Jury favorites: the old and the young. Add to that the trespass of the victim and you have a perfect storm of emotions for the jury. My guess is the deliberation went something like:

    “Well,you should look where you’re shooting but this guy who got shot was trespassing and the old man had every right to think no one would be trespassing on his land. Plus, who would be reckless with their 12-year-old grandson around.”

    Verdict for the defendant.

    Not agreeing with it just analyzing what I see out there in the American jury pool psyche.

  18. nick spinelli:

    did you wear pampers and carry kando flusable wipes?

    Blaze orange would have done the trick.

    If you are a non-hunter do not go in the woods during hunting season or wear blaze orange, a lot of it.

    Although I still think the guy should do some time and lose his license to hunt.

  19. Mespo,
    I am not sure the victim was trespassing. The source article only said he was on the edge of the property. Does that mean on the edge outside of the shooter’s property, or just inside the line?

    I agree with your take on how a jury might look at it, but doesn’t the shooter have a duty to make sure he is shooting a bear and not a human?

  20. Bron, I learned to wear blaze orange after one trip into the woods. I have a bike trail near my house that goes through public hunting grounds. I bought blaze orange for my 2 dogs just for when we were walking. The week of deer season in Wi. is like a holiday week. It’s wrapped around Thanksgiving which pisses off many wives. However, I see more and more women hunting in the 30 years I’ve lived in Wi.

  21. I am not convinced that the jury system is the best system of determining justice in the world and this case is an example of why I think that. This perpetrator had a jury of his peers, where was the jury made up of the bear impersonator’s peers?

    People justify the jury system as being based on the common sense of the community members thinking that common sense is actually a good thing. I disagree, consider where in the brain the neural networks encoding racism, misogyny and homophobia reside. They do not fall under the rubric prejudices and irrational beliefs but under that of common sense and other unquestionable truths. If a justice system is to use juries it also needs some mechanism to help jurors overcome their cognitive distortions that come from their relying on their common sense. One should also consider whether the jury should be of the victims peers rather than those of the perpetrator.

  22. it’s called “buck fever”. when some go hunting they want to get a buck (or bear in this instance) so bad almost anything will look to them like the prize.

    if you go in the woods during hunting season, wear orange. singing also helps.

  23. If the bears were armed we would have less of this carnage. Dont forget that the Framers of the Second Amendment were dyslexic and meant to say: the right to arm bears… NOT the right to bear arms.

  24. This is the second time I’ve tried posting, but the first went into “moderation” because it contained a few links. Why doesn’t anyone ever check for or approve such posts?

    ———————————–

    Some might try to blame the dead guy for not wearing fluorescent colours in a hunting area. But one can easily find cases where idiots shoot at anything that moves. Some shoot at people wearing bright yellow or orange despite the blatantly obvious fact that no mammals have fluorescent fur or feathers, and few insects and amphibians do.

    In a quick search, I found literally dozens of news items about people being injured or killed by idiots firing at anything moving in front of them. One was from 1975 (45 people shot while wearing bright red), one from 1995 (13 shot while wearing fluorescent colours), one from 2004 (several people shot despite fluorescent clothes being mandatory), etc. It’s safer to wear bright colours, but I’d bet the farm there are people who report being shot at or they were killed because they were visible to an idiot with a gun.

    Deer can’t see most fluorescent colours, and deer don’t wear them, yet there are still plenty of morons with guns who can’t grasp that concept. Camouflage only confuses humans, not animals. Yes, I had a link for that too, but again I don’t want my post blocked.

  25. This is one of those unfortunate situations….

    LK,

    That seems to me… The way family gets rid of undesirable relatives….

  26. It’s the right verdict in America. As long people get to have all the guns and ammo they want, the death of the other person is irrelevant, unavoidable, couldn’t be helped, just another accident. Just one more gun death. No big deal. Just an oops! Oh well.

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