Man's family fights for justice
The family of slain hunter Adam Hill are fighting for tougher penalties around accidental shootings in the bush.
After having their lives "ripped apart" and "being kicked in the teeth" by the justice system, Hill's family and friends are driving a petition to make jail mandatory for a hunter who kills someone with their actions.
Hill, who was wearing a fluoro vest, was mistaken for a deer and shot by Tuatapere man Wayne Edgerton, while hunting in the Longwoods in Southland in April.
Edgerton, a well-known gun-safety advocate, was sentenced to seven months' home detention, 400 hours' community work, ordered to pay $10,000 emotional harm reparation to Adam Hill's partner and forfeit his firearm after he admitted carelessly using a .30-06 rifle, causing death on April 13.
Hill's fiancee, Christine Pink, and mother, Barb Herrick, said too many hunters had been killed in New Zealand and changes to the law were needed to make sure other families did not have to live through their nightmare.
"We want to see a compulsory manslaughter charge with jail for anyone who shoots another person while hunting," Herrick said.
"If you take someone's life you should go to jail," Pink said.
Adam Hill's father, Dave, said harsher penalties would make hunters think before shooting.
"We need all hunters to understand there will be consequences if they kill someone. They need to know what they can lose if they take someone's loved one away," he said.
Petitions were online at http://www.activism.com/en-NZ/petition/justice-for-adam/60552 and would be placed around Southland. With enough support, the petition would be taken to Parliament.
"We want to get politicians to take notice. Home detention is not a strong enough deterrent," Herrick said.
The Hill family also want stronger emphasis on eye-testing before gun licences are approved. It was still up to the person applying for a licence to let police know if they need glasses, Pink said.
University of Otago dean of law Professor Mark Henaghan said it would be tough to introduce mandatory manslaughter for an accidental shooting. "You can't dictate what circumstances will be involved in advance," he said.
Henaghan said of about 20 cases of shooting-type accidents he and colleagues had looked at, manslaughter had been used once.
The real issue was the sentencing outcome for Hill's family and the processes involved in sentencing could be challenged, he said.
"Reparations may have been offered and paid, the person has apologised, it's a first offence. All those things lower sentencing.
"Those things are open for political scrutiny. Sentencing has always been a political issue in terms of how parameters are laid down," Henaghan said.
Petitioning for a law change had worked in the past.
"One thing politicians take note of is if enough people are concerned about something, they are not going to want to be seen cutting back the tide," Henaghan said.
Law was very much based on precedent and the underlying principle of our law system is "like cases should be decided alike", he said.
Judges had their hands tied by the criteria that had gone before in these type of cases, Henaghan said.
Parliament could change the law but it would need sufficient public pressure to do so, he said.
"It may be a bit harsh but they could say if a life is taken then home detention is not available."
The parents of Alexander "Cam" McDonald, who was shot dead during a Wairarapa hunting trip in April, 2012, have made the same plea as the Hills.
Last month, McDonald's father, Ranald, told Fairfax he still wanted to see far harsher penalties, and compulsory manslaughter charges, in hunter shooting cases.
The charges of careless use of a firearm causing death, laid against both Edgerton and his son's killer, Christopher Dummer, were not a strong enough deterrent, he said.
"In short, if a hunter fails to identify his target correctly, and as a consequence kills another person, a significant term of imprisonment must be mandatory for this type of buck-fever behaviour," McDonald said.
- The Southland Times