BURLINGTON, Vt. – BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Even now, no one knows who fired the stray bullet that killed a retired St. Michael's College professor at his dining room table.
But two men have now been convicted in the shooting, which happened when a rifle shot from a backyard firing range next door went through a window and hit John Reiss, killing him on the spot.
On Thursday, 28-year-old Brad Lussier — one of three men who had been firing a SKS automatic rifle in the moments before Reiss was hit — was sentenced to 60 days in jail after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the Sept. 23, 2008, shooting in Essex.
"I did see the house, and I should have known" the danger, Lussier said in court.
Last month, a jury convicted Reiss' neighbor, who set up the firing range and invited his co-workers from a local IBM plant to come over for a shooting party. Joseph McCarthy, 40, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and is awaiting sentencing. He could get 15 years in prison.
Reiss, an English professor emeritus, literary critic and scholar whose daughter is a federal judge in Vermont, had taught at St. Michael's for 34 years.
Reiss was sitting down to eat dinner at his home when the stray bullet shattered a window and went through Reiss' heart.
In a 911 call played at McCarthy's trial, wife Sheila Reiss pleaded for help in the moments after her husband was hit.
"My husband was shot!" she told the 911 operator.
Prosecutors acknowledged in both cases that they couldn't establish who had fired the fatal shot, which was one of about 100 rounds alternately fired by members of the group throughout the afternoon. But they pursued the cases anyway, seeking to hold McCarthy responsible for setting up the firing range and Lussier for providing the rifle, loading it and promoting its use in an unsafe area.
A third man shooting with them wasn't charged.
"Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Lussier both did things that led to the death," said prosecutor Justin Jiron.
Lussier, a "working stiff," according to Judge Mark Keller, had no criminal record. Under the plea, he agreed to a 2- to 5-year jail term, all suspended except the 60 days, and 200 hours of community service. Prosecutor Mary Morrissey said the goal is for Lussier to serve that time talking to hunter safety education classes about the dangers of shooting in residential areas.
Morrissey said the plea was a "measured response" under the circumstances of the killing.
Reiss' family members — including two of his daughters, but not Judge Christina Reiss — sat in the front row of the gallery for the proceeding. They declined to comment outside court. In a statement read by Morrissey before Keller sentenced Lussier, they said they forgive the men responsible for Reiss' death but called it an avoidable tragedy.
His death has left Sheila Reiss "a shadow of her former self," the statement said.