A judge in New Zealand broke down with emotion this week while discharging a hunter without conviction over the accidental shooting of his son earlier this year.
In an incrediby sad story that makes confronting reading, a New Zealand hunter was this week discharged without conviction after accidentally shooting dead his son during a deer hunting trip to Stewart Island.
According to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, StephenPhillip Long, 61, admitted in May to carelessly using a firearm causing the death of his 24-year-old son Samuel Phillip Long onMarch 23.
In the Invercargill District Court on Tuesday,Judge Bernadette Farnan, who broke down with emotion when reading victim impact statements, discharged MrLong without conviction but ordered the destruction of his rifle.
Mr Long’s family and supporters were in the public gallery, with tears shed by some during the lengthy sentencing, while an emotional Mr Long hugged his loved ones when it was over.
The court heard that Mr Long was a well regarded hunter known for his safety and he had taught others, including his son, about safety in the bush.
A police summary of facts says Mr Long and his son were part of a five-person group on Stewart Island hunting for white-tailed deer when the shooting occurred.
At 9am, Samuel Longleft the bush hut they had slept in overnight, dressed in camouflage clothing and wearing a camouflage cap and carrying a backpack.
His father left the hut 45 minutes later, also wearing camouflage hunting gear.
He reached an area of bush and saw movement in the bush that he believed were two white-tailed deer.
He told police he spent two or three minutes confirming this with both the naked eye and his rifle scope. He moved to his left and right to clearly identify his target and saw what he believed was a deer lifting its head. He believed he saw two prongs on top of each antler on a white tailed deer’s head before firing his rifle.
When he walked forward, he foundhe had fatally shot his son in the head.
Mr Long, who shot Samuel from 20 metres away,later told police his son was supposed to be at another hunting area.
Mr Long’s lawyer, John Fraser, who had applied for a discharge without conviction, said the hunting trip had been methodically planned and the party had exclusive access to the area at that time.
Samuel was supposed to have been in a different hunting spot and he was not wearing his blaze orange hunting hat which was his habit, Mr Fraser said.
Mr Long senior had been “100 percent certain” he was shooting at a deer but his “cognitive bias” may have influenced his decision to shoot.
Mr Long, who had been “broken” since the shooting, was “safe and methodical” and his level of carelessness had been low, Mr Fraser said.
Police argued against the discharge without conviction, instead supporting a sentence of home detention. Mr Long had broken the cardinal rule of failing to identify his target.
There was a high public interest in the case and a need for a deterrent because the number of people accidentally shot in the bush was increasing, police said.
Judge Farnan, however, said Mr Long’s carelessness and level of culpability were low.
He had put a high level of planning into the hunting trip. His family, who were the victims, believed he had suffered enough and did not want him convicted. He had no previous convictions, had been hunting 41 years and was regarded as safety conscious. His job would be at threat if convicted, a conviction would affect his ability to travel and there would be stigma with a conviction, the judge said.
When reading the victim impact statements, she broke down at one stage.
“It’s very difficult for me too,” she said before composing herself and carrying on.
Speaking after the sentencing, Mr Fraser said the discharge without conviction for such a charge was a bold and courageous decision, and appropriate because it could be distinguished from other cases where people had been shot in the bush.
Mr Long declined to comment.