Jurors sent the wrong message on gun owners' responsibilities by acquitting a hunter of manslaughter in the shooting death of a woman he mistook for a deer, relatives of the victim said.
"There's going to be blood on their hands" if someone else in Maine dies under similar circumstances, Gerry Veninsky, brother of Karen Wood, said after the jury cleared Donald Rogerson on Wednesday."It's not a hunting issue. It's not a gun-rights issue. It's responsibility and accountability," Veninsky said.
Rogerson, 47, a supermarket produce manager from Bangor, shot Wood in the chest as she walked in woods 130 feet behind her home in Hermon in 1988. The 37-year-old mother of twin year-old girls had moved from Iowa four months earlier.
Rogerson, the lone defense witness, testified Tuesday that he fired after he spotted what he thought was a deer through the scope of his rifle. He said he apparently mistook the woman's white mittens for a deer's white tail.
The Superior Court jury reached its verdict after nine hours of deliberations. Rogerson could have received up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
"I'm very overwhelmed at this time," he said. "I hope and pray the Lord will give Mr. Wood the strength he has given me through this whole ordeal."
The case had pitted hunters against non-hunters and newcomers against old-timers in Maine, where hunting is a way of life. Maine sells more than 200,000 hunting licenses each year.
The state's top wildlife official said the verdict made no "social statement about Maine and hunting."
"The verdict makes it clear that the jury feels it was an accident," said William J. Vail, commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. "Accidents are accidents. It was a tragedy on both sides."