WA Teen Faces Up To 3 Months For Death

Seattle OnLine, Bear Hunting Magazine

A Skagit County Juvenile Court judge found the boy, now 15, guilty of second-degree manslaughter in a case that had prompted calls for the reform of the state's hunting laws.

Last fall two teenage brothers were out hunting for bear when the younger of the boys, then 14, shot what he thought was a bear, when it actually was a person. Pamela Almli had been enjoying a hike on a marked trail on Sauk Mountain when she was shot in the head.

After a five-day bench trial, Skagit County Superior Court Judge Susan Cook acquitted the boy of first-degree manslaughter, finding there was insufficient evidence to prove the boy knew there was a substantial risk his target could be a person. She decided in favor of the second-degree charge because the boy had been negligent and unaware of risks he should have known about.

It was a verdict that satisfied neither side.

Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich had argued during the trial that the boy acted recklessly because he failed to follow a basic rule of hunting: Identify a target positively with binoculars before pulling the trigger.

Almli's family could not be reached for comment, but Weyrich said some were unhappy that the boy was convicted on the lesser charge rather than first-degree manslaughter.

The boy, who is not being named because he is a juvenile, could face from one to three months in a juvenile-detention center when he is sentenced at a later date.

The boy's attorney, Roy Howson, argued that the death was a tragic accident and that the case should not have been prosecuted.

According to police reports and court documents, the two brothers had been taken to Sauk Mountain by their grandfather to hunt bear on August 2. The older boy was 16 at the time. Their grandfather remained in his truck at the trailhead, according to court documents.

Fog was heavy that day, the boys later told investigators, and in some places they could see only 20 feet ahead of them. They decided to hike the mountain instead of hunting but they brought their rifles with them "just in case," court documents say.

On the way back down, the younger brother saw movement and a "black outline" on the trail about 100 yards in front of them, according to the documents.

The boys both had rifles with 3X-magnification scopes, and both looked through their scopes for "a few minutes" before the younger boy said, "It's a bear, it's a bear," and, "I've got my cross hairs on it," the documents say. The older boy looked, agreed with his brother and told the younger to go ahead and pull the trigger.

"You can imagine how terrible he feels," said Howson, reached by phone on Tuesday. "He confirmed that it was a bear and told his brother it was OK to shoot.

"This has torn apart the whole family," Howson said. "Everybody is second-guessing themselves even though what the boys were doing was perfectly legal and valid."

The boys raced down the mountain, Howson said, only to find Almli's body. A longtime friend of Almli's, who was hiking with her that day, later told investigators that she heard the shot, leapt down an embankment in fear for her life and then heard one of the boys say something like, "Oh my God, it's a person."

The boys then raced off to tell their grandfather, who summoned police. The boy faces a 30-day sentence for the second-degree manslaughter conviction. If the judge finds that a firearms enhancement is appropriate, he' wil face an additional two months, according to Weyrich.

Had he been convicted of first-degree manslaughter, the boy could have faced up to 15 months in custody, Weyrich said.

Howson said he may argue that the firearms enhancement is not appropriate in this case, given that the boy "was hunting legally, was allowed to have a firearm with him and, in fact, had to have the firearm to do what he was doing."

Almli was the first non-hunter to be killed by a hunter in Washington in more than 25 years. Her shooting sparked intense debate among outdoor recreationists and political groups.

Some legislators vowed to alter the state laws that allow a 14-year-old who is licensed and has taken a hunting-safety class to hunt without adult supervision, though age restrictions are placed on target shooting.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, introduced a bill that would have required a licensed hunter under the age of 16 to be accompanied by a licensed hunter over the age of 18 who had held a hunting license for at least the three previous years.

Another legislator introduced a bill that would have required people to wear "hunter orange" in mixed-use outdoor recreation areas during big-game hunting seasons. But the bills didn't pass, and the state law regarding juvenile hunters remains unchanged.

"This has been pretty emotional," Howson said. "A woman died and a boy will remember this for the rest of his life."

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