When you fire a bullet, you own it

ND-shot-in-footThe title of this post isn’t just a truism; it’s a statement the District Attorney made in the trial of a New Hampshire man who shot a young hunter from out of state on the first day of deer season in 2011. It’s a story with several endings, all sad ones; nobody has suggested that Wade Holmes of Lisbon, NH shot knowingly and deliberately, only that he should have known better. It’s one more illustration of our sad aphorism that there are no new accidents, just new people having the same old accidents. Per the Manchester, NH Union Leader:

Wade S. Holmes, 50, faces a 3 1/2- to seven-year sentence in New Hampshire State Prison. He showed little reaction as he received the verdict; he had insisted he was shooting at a deer when he felled Kenneth Brunelle, 31, of Marlborough, Mass., on the opening day of New Hampshire deer rifle season in 2011.

Brunelle’s father, Cregg Brunelle, said outside the North Haverhill courthouse there were no winners in the case.

“I ain’t going to get my son back, and he’s going to prison,” said Brunelle, who was hunting near his son the day he was killed in the Lisbon woods off Mt. Eustis Road. The younger Brunelle left two young sons, Lucas and Kaleb.

Cregg Brunelle said he was not surprised at the speedy verdict.

“I knew he was guilty; it was just so cut and dried. There were no deer in the area. What was his rush to kill a deer? The season just started.”

“There’s enough heartache to go around,” Grafton County Assistant Attorney Jack Bell, the prosecutor, agreed during an interview after the verdict.

He praised State Police and Fish and Game officers for putting together the case; they had disputed Holmes’ contention that he was firing at a doe when he took a shot from about 75 yards with his Winchester 30-06.

During the five-day trial, defense attorney Leonard Harden pointed out several times that Brunelle was dressed in camouflage. But Bell said what Brunelle was wearing that day was irrelevant.

“Whether he was wearing a tuxedo or a Scuba outfit doesn’t matter. When you fire a bullet, you own it,” Bell told the jury.

via Lisbon hunter found guilty in man’s shooting | New Hampshire Crime.

In this case a momentary error ended one life and disrupted many others, not least the erring shooter’s. How you mistake a man in the end zone for a doe from your own 25-yard-line is beyond us, but it happened.

Holmes was convicted on two charges, negligent homicide and reckless conduct. Under a peculiarity of New Hampshire law, he’ll be sentenced for only one of the two — the prosecutor’s choice. (Bell has not said which he will choose, but the more serious charge is negligent homicide, which has a longer sentennce).

6 thoughts on “When you fire a bullet, you own it

  1. Dan

    If there were no deer in the area then why were at least 3 people hunting there? Holmes shot at a sound he thought was a deer and made a horrible mistake.

    Note: the person who died was 31 yrs old. I wouldn’t consider him to have been a young hunter.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Obviously the hunters thought there were deer in the area. The state wildlife guys say there weren’t; while the belief of the hunters at the time is a factor in their decision to shoot, the wildlife agents’ testimony rebuts the defense claim that Mr Holmes actually shot a a deer but missed and hit the victim instead. That was one of several defense theories thrown at the jury, as if to see what would stick.

      The slain individual looks young to us; 31 isn’t middle-aged yet, is it? And technically, it turns out he was not hunting himself. He was shooting video of family members, who were hunting.

      We generally oppose the criminalization of accidents. In our experience, accident investigations that seek to understand cause (like NTSB air crash reviews) rather than find liability (as in civil courts), or especially charge somebody (as in criminal investigations), offer the best hope of reducing future accidents. Look at the results of the accident investigation system, which operates outside criminal and civl law, and has reduced commercial air accidents to a de minimis level.

      You can’t bring back the life of the victim. You can either try to prevent future occurrences, or try to hang somebody. Liability law and especially criminal negligence law, as deployed in this case, goes for the hanging rather than the prevention.

      No question he was negligent. He broke a .30-06 round without a clear understanding of what he was shooting. As is usually the case in a fatal shooting mishap, the shooter violated the fundamental safety rules. We’ve said it many times: no new accidents, just new guys having the same old accidents.

  2. Aesop

    I too oppose criminalizing accidents, but heartily approve of prosecuting manslaughter, especially when it occurs because of an @$$clown with a firearm.

    One hopes that Nimrod receives a daily dose of Crotch Kick for his entire 3 1/2 to 7 year term, both to preclude replicating himself at any point in the future, and to drive the lesson home from stern to stem, in his case brain stem, though arguably that’s all of a brain he actually possesses.

    Shooting at noises in the bushes isn’t a rookie hunting mistake, it’s a monumental demonstration of inability to be trusted with either frearms or freedom.

    The saddest thing about this case is that he didn’t have the personal honor to cap himself in the woods once he realized what he’d done, and wasn’t subsequently beaten to pieces by other members of the victim’s party, and left to decompose and be eaten and hence recycled into useful fauna by nearby wild animals. Once he lawyered up instead of making a full and complete confession, he pretty much forfeited any expectations of return decency.

    I would cheer for more stringent punishment to reward and commemorate his documented weapons skills, common sense, and character, but horsewhipping and drawing & quartering have gone all out of favor, and there probably aren’t any handy local Apaches to spend a few leisurely days slowly roasting his bits and pieces over a campfire instead, so a stretch in the can is a pale sanitized substitute.

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  4. Larry

    Two of the commenters said that the shooter shot at a NOISE, but the article I just read said nothing about shooting at a noise. Not having access to the transcript of the trial, I can only point out that the defense attourney didn’t do his job very good because although he pointed out several times that Brunelle was dressed in camouflage, he did not point out that camo is intended to blend with trees and bushes, which is why in my state, flame orange attire is required for hunters in the rifle season. Also, he should have pointed out that his client obviously had “buck fever” which is wanting to see a deer so bad that a bush or something in his field of vision slightly resembled a deer so he took a shot at it. I have personal experience with buck fever in that I was hunting in an area for buck only and saw several does through some small trees. The one I could see the clearest had its head and shoulders visible through the tree limbs and wanting to see antlers so bad that for several minutes I actually thought I saw antlers on the head of that doe. I put my crosshairs on the head of that doe and just before I pulled the trigger, the antlers vanished. But Bell said what Brunelle was wearing that day was irrelevant. I agree with the commneter who made the statement about hunter safety. I ALWAYS make sure of what is behind my target because, as Bell said, “When you fire a bullet, you own it.” If there’s something you DO NOT want your bullet to hit, be it a person, car, or another deer beyond the one you’re shooting at, DON’T SHOOT! When I shoot at a critter, I make sure there’s something behind it that will stop my bullet, be it trees, a hillside or whatever that’s solid enough to stop my bullet. Unless your bullet hits a solid bone in your deer, it will pass through soft tissue and keep on going. It’s not like Holms did it on purpose, but one hopes Mr. Holms learns a few things during his incarceration.

  5. Y

    Morons and hunting weapons – dangerous combination.

    Slovak president , who has always been a not-very-bright asshole lickspittle and has started showing symptoms of dementia in the past couple of years likely shot a guy once. Like many of the new elite scum he likes hunting. Somehow they think aping 19th century aristocratic customs is going to make them seem less crap. Anyway..

    Someone noticed a connection between that 2009 shooting and how the president became almost completely servile to the SMER party later on. He was sympathetic to them before, but afterwards he started behaving in a manner that made him look bad and capricious yet always helped the SMER party, which at the time of the shooting headed the gov’t. Had political appointees heading both the interior ministry and (marginally) secret service.

    http://spectator.sme.sk/articles/view/48694/10/gasparovic_sues_blogger.html

    At least it seems that way. Officially, two experienced hunters were sighting in weapons when one of them fatally shot the other. Both of them knew the president, one was a hunting guide(former state sec agent) who usually accompanied guest hunters and the other manager of the hunting area (political appointee).

    People who knew them claimed both were known for handling guns professionally. Yet one of them took a shot at the target, hit it, but also hit the other guy who was standing behind it. That’s what he told the police..

    And the accounts of where the old prick* was supposed to have been at the time changed several times – highly suspicious. His office, obviously staffed by morons managed to secure him an alibi only on the third time – the first two times what they said was untrue.
    http://www.aktuality.sk/clanok/221221/ani-druhe-alibi-prezidenta-gasparovica-vraj-nesedi/

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