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Hunter acquitted in Marine's shooting death

Feb. 23, 2013 - 01:57PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 23, 2013 - 01:57PM  |  
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Eugene Collier admits he was shooting to kill when he fired the .270-caliber bullet that caused Christopher Ochoa's death on Oct 21, 2011.

But he thought he was shooting at a bear.

He was certain, he told a jury Friday, that the dark figure "on all fours" at the edge of his family's property where he was hunting that evening was a bear.

That jury agreed with him, acquitting him of a charge of second-degree manslaughter. The jury returned its verdict after about two hours of deliberations.

The 12-person jury decided that Collier was not reckless in the shooting death of the 20-year-old Ochoa, a marine reservist from California who had traveled to Oregon to help his friend, Raymond Westrom. The two of them set out to see the South Falls at Silver Falls State Park the night Ochoa was shot.

Instructed to remain quiet by deputies from the Marion County Sheriff's Office, a filled courtroom was silent after the jury foreman deemed Collier not guilty of manslaughter and a hunting violation.

While Collier's reaction could not be seen from the gallery, he did not display any notable outbreak of emotions.

Neither family agreed to provide comment, but Collier and his wife met with members of Ochoa's family behind closed doors after the trial ended.

Earlier in the day, however, Collier was the last witness to take the stand and the court once again heard about the events surrounding Ochoa's death.

Collier and his then 12-year-old grandson had been baiting for deer and were looking for coyotes on the field, which he partially owns, where the shooting occured.

"I made a terrible mistake. It was a tragic accident, I didn't mean for it to happen," Collier said. "I'm terribly sorry."

Collier was asked to recount in great detail the events surrounding Ochoa's death by both his own attorney, Jeff Jones, and the prosecuting attorney, Tiffany Underwood.

"I look and there's something on its hands and knees. It looks like a bear," he said. "I adjust to the target, then shoot it. I'm still certain it's a bear."

Collier said it wasn't until he was 100 yards away from his target that he knew he had shot a human.

"I froze. I thought the only person up there was my grandson, then I realized he wasn't dressed like that."

Danny Collier had heard the shot from his hunting stand on the south side of the field and came running.

"Danny came, I said, ‘I shot somebody. We got to go get help," he said.

The two then reportedly drove to nearby Silver Ridge Road and flagged down a vehicle to call 911.

During cross examination, Underwood asked Collier why he had taken Vicodin before his blood test after the Marion County Sheriff's Office arrived on the scene.

He said he told a deputy about the prescription for a recent knee surgery and thought it would be alright to take it when his knee began hurting.

Underwood also asked Collier about his 60 years of hunting experience.

"How often do you hit your target?" she asked.

"I will usually make sure I've got a good kill shot," he said.

During closing arguments, Underwood spoke to the charge of recklessness, which suggests that the subject was aware of a risk and consciously disregarded it.

"A reasonable person would look at something for longer than two or three seconds before firing at it," she said. "If defendant had looked at Christopher Ochoa for longer than two or three seconds, we might not be here."

Jones told the jury in his closing arguments that prosecutors were trying to sell them a "bill of goods."

"Sometimes bad things happen to good people when accidents happen," he said. "I'm going to ask you to ask yourself: ‘What do I believe the state of the evidence to be?' "

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