— The attorney representing a hunter accused of killing a man while shooting at a deer said Friday that his client was hunting responsibly when he fired the fatal shot.
Scott Lynch made the comments outside Androscoggin County Superior Court after Christopher S. Austin, 41, of Wales pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and discharging a firearm near a dwelling in the shooting of Gerard N. Parent, 49, near his home in Wales last Nov. 20.
Lynch said Parent was dressed in a white shirt, slippers and an improperly worn blaze orange vest when he popped up from behind a ridge just as Austin fired on a deer. Wardens have said that Parent was shooting at the same deer.
“I expect the experts in this case will say, ‘You have to know your target,’” Lynch said. “But you have to have a chance to know your target.”
Justice MaryGay Kennedy continued Austin’s bail at $5,000 cash, which he posted and was released from jail.
In the courtroom, Austin spoke only when asked to plead to the charges, and he responded not guilty.
Authorities say Austin shot Parent around 4:20 p.m., at twilight, 13 minutes before the state-required end of the hunting day.
The Maine Warden Service said Austin and Parent were tracking the same deer in a sliver of woods between East Road and Route 126, and both apparently fired at that deer.
Parent died of a gunshot wound to the upper chest, the state Medical Examiner’s Office found.
The indictment says Austin acted “recklessly or with criminal negligence” when he caused Parent’s death. Austin was hunting with a .308-caliber rifle within 100 yards of a building or residential dwelling, according to the indictment.
Parent lived at 392 East Road, at the road’s southern end, near the intersection with Route 126, and wardens say the shooting occurred near his property. The land slopes steeply down from the road, and the wooded area where he was shot is in a valley.
Lynch said Friday that Austin, who lives on nearby Andrews Road, had hunted in the area. Lynch did not know if his client had hunted in the specific location where the shooting occurred.
To convict Austin of manslaughter, the state will have to prove he acted with criminal negligence or recklessness, Lynch said.
“Those are the alternatives,” he said. “We believe the government is going to have a problem with either of those two options.”
Lynch said Parent set his sights on the deer only after noticing Austin pursuing it. He said Parent was not wearing his blaze orange vest as the law requires.
“The vest was not tied in front,” Lynch said. “You are required to use hunter orange, but you’re (also) required to use it correctly.”
Lynch said, “If someone goes into the woods wearing white, not wearing orange, and they pop up over a ridge, that’s not criminal negligence.”
The warden service has said that Austin shot twice, while Parent shot once.
Lynch said the shooting has deeply affected Austin’s family, as well as Parent’s. He said Austin tried to save Parent’s life and continues to deal with the fact that he was unable to do so.
“No matter what the result of the trial, you never get over that,” Lynch said.
He suggested that a trial might be held early this summer.
An Androscoggin County grand jury indicted Austin this week. He turned himself in at the jail Thursday.
In setting bail conditions, Kennedy prohibited Austin from owning or using firearms and consuming alcohol. Austin may not contact Parent’s family, but Kennedy said he may go to the site of the shooting with Lynch and defense experts who have been hired to examine the shooting.
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5642 or at: