SALEM, Ore. – An Oregon hunter has been found not guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of a Marine reservist from California he says he mistook for a bear.
The Salem jury deliberated for about two hours Friday before acquitting Eugene Collier, The Statesman Journal newspaper reported.
Collier, 68, was the last witness to take the stand. He told jurors he was shooting to kill when he fired the .270-caliber bullet that caused the death of Christopher Ochoa, 20, of French Camp, Calif., in October 2011 near Silver Falls State Park.
Collier was hunting with his 12-year-old grandson and said he was sure he was shooting a bear
"I made a terrible mistake. It was a tragic accident, I didn't mean for it to happen," Collier said. "I'm terribly sorry."
He and his wife met with members of Ochoa's family privately after the trial ended. Neither family spoke with the media after the verdict.
Collier testified Friday he was about 100 yards from his target when he realized he had shot a human.
"I froze," he recalled. "I thought the only person up there was my grandson. Then I realized he wasn't dressed like that."
His grandson heard the shot from his hunting stand and came running,
"Danny came, I said, `I shot somebody. We got to go get help,"' Collier said.
Prosecutor Tiffany Underwood asked Collier why he had taken Vicodin pain killer before his blood was tested by Marion County sheriff's officials responding to the scene. Collier said he told a deputy about the prescription for a recent knee surgery and thought it would be OK to take when his knee started aching.
Underwood also asked Collier about his 60 years of hunting experience.
"How often do you hit your target?" she asked.
"I will usually make sure I've got a good kill shot," he replied.
During her closing argument, Underwood suggested that Collier was aware of a risk and disregarded it.
"A reasonable person would look at something for longer than two or three seconds before firing at it," she said. "If defendant had looked at Christopher Ochoa for longer than two or three seconds, we might not be here."
But Collier's attorney, Jeff Jones, told jurors the evidence pointed to a tragic accident.
"Sometimes bad things happen to good people when accidents happen," he said.