PORTLAND – On a sunny November afternoon in 1988, Karen Wood was shot dead in her backyard by a hunter who thought he was firing at a deer.
There have been 340 hunting fatalities in Maine in 72 years of record-keeping, but none created the uproar that resulted when Donald Rogerson shot the 37-year-old mother of twin baby girls and he was found not guilty of manslaughter.
Landowners posted signs on tens of thousands of acres telling hunters to keep off as the shooting created an “us-versus-them” clash between hunters and non-hunters, and between natives and those who came to Maine from elsewhere.
The tragic shooting resulted in lawmakers enacting a so-called target identification law that requires hunters to see the entire deer before shooting, said Maine Warden Service Lt. Dan Scott.
The law has made hunters more aware of what they’re shooting at and makes it easier to prosecute hunting fatalities, he said. He knows of at least four cases in the past decade where hunters have been convicted of manslaughter under the target identification law.
After the shooting, some people suggested that Wood was partly to blame because she wasn’t wearing orange and was out during hunting season. Her husband, Kevin Wood, said a friend told him that people cheered when Rogerson’s not-guilty verdict was announced over a loudspeaker at a youth soccer game in Rogerson’s hometown of Bangor.
“I still believe there exists in the community, and his community, a provincialism that views the newcomers as being different from the natives,” said Kevin Wood, who moved back to Iowa shortly after his wife’s death. “And that’s unfortunate. Because in the eyes of the law, there should be no difference.”
Karen and Kevin Wood moved from Iowa to Hermon, outside of Bangor, in the summer of 1988 when he got a job at Eastern Maine Medical Center as a pediatric psychologist. She was killed four months later.
A grand jury at first failed to indict Rogerson. A second grand jury indicted him on manslaughter, but a jury in 1990 found him not guilty.
In public comments Rogerson made five years ago, he said he’s not 100 percent convinced it was his bullet that killed Karen Wood. He did not return a phone call to his home seeking comment.
Between 1948 and 1952, between 15 and 19 people were killed in hunting accidents each year. There were two hunting deaths a year on average in the 1980s. Over the past decade, there have been five fatalities in all.
Hunters are more aware of their responsibilities than 25 years ago, said George Smith, a lifelong hunter and former longtime executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
“There was no excuse for what Rogerson did,” Smith said. “And today, he would have been convicted.”