July 14, 2013

Open access is flashpoint for hunters, landowners

A shooting in Starks last October highlights the tenuous -- and tense -- relationship when it comes to hunting on private property.

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

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Hebert said Robert Pond kicked him and hit him with the barrel of his rifle.

Then a single shot hit Hebert in the side. He fell into a mud puddle, got up and said to Robert Pond, "You shot me." He placed his hand over the wound and showed the hunters the blood. He said Robert Pond replied, "No I didn't."

Hebert drove himself home and called 911. He was later taken by LifeFlight helicopter to Central Maine Medical Center, where he underwent multiple surgeries.

Jennifer Hebert told police that her husband also suffered two broken ribs and significant lung and tissue damage, although his injuries were not considered life-threatening.

Hanstein, the lawyer for the Pond brothers, said they called 911 to report what happened and to seek treatment for Burpey Pond and Hebert.

In an interview with police, Burpey Pond said he was punched in the mouth. He said he grabbed hold of Hebert's belt because he was afraid of being thrown to the road.

He said he believed Hebert was crazy and yelled to his brother for help.

Hebert said he did not reach for -- or ever touch -- the rifle that shot him.

'NOT A SIMPLE CASE'

Maine State Police and the Somerset County Sheriff's Department both went to the scene. Officers interviewed the hunters, Hebert and searched the hunters' vehicles, seized their guns and took DNA swabs.

But they made no arrests.

A Nov. 1 incident report lists the offenses from the encounter: elevated aggravated assault, hunting an antlerless deer without a permit, and aggravated assault.

Burpey Pond was charged with the hunting misdemeanor and paid a fine, according to Maloney.

According to the police report, Hebert was a victim of elevated aggravated assault and Burpey Pond was a victim of aggravated assault.

During the investigation, Hebert asked police whether Robert Pond was considered justified in shooting him because of Hebert's fight with Pond's brother.

"This would depend upon the man who'd shot him('s) perception of the events as he interpreted them at the time of the incident," Detective Matthew Cunningham of the Somerset County Sheriff's Department wrote in the police report. "I advised (Hebert) that Burpey Pond reportedly had teeth knocked out so the matter was not a simple case of (Hebert) being shot by another person."

Forensic evidence from the crime lab didn't offer much clarity.

While Hebert's DNA was found on the gun he was shot with, Burpey Pond's blood and DNA were not found on Hebert's clothing. Maloney said that if Hebert had knocked out Pond's teeth, the clothing would likely have had traces of the hunter's DNA or blood.

She also said that Robert Pond said he didn't shoot Hebert.

"Robert Pond did not have the intention of pulling the trigger. The gun was jerked out of his hand. It was (Hebert's) movement that caused the gun to go off," Maloney said.

A second round of forensic testing confirmed, through gunshot residue on his T-shirt, that Hebert was shot from close range. Maloney said this second piece of evidence was key to the decision to take the case to the grand jury.

"When this came back we knew part of (Hebert's) story simply wasn't true," she said.

Hanstein, the Ponds' lawyer, said that both brothers feel terrible about what happened, and that the experience has potentially ruined hunting for them. Neither brother had a criminal record and Hanstein said the case was concluded fairly.

Both Hebert and the Pond brothers testified before the grand jury on June 6.

"Everybody talked to the grand jury," Hanstein said. "They told the grand jury their side of the story and the jury decided there would be no charges."

Both Hebert and the Ponds say they're considering filing civil claims against each other.

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

rohm@mainetoday.com

 

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