We 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?