Ire over 'joke' sentence

A police officer calms angry friends and relatives of shot hunter Adam Hill outside the...
A police officer calms angry friends and relatives of shot hunter Adam Hill outside the Invercargill District Court yesterday. Photos by ODT.
Adam Hill.
Adam Hill.
Wayne Edgerton in the dock at the Invercargill District Court yesterday.
Wayne Edgerton in the dock at the Invercargill District Court yesterday.

Several angry friends and relatives of young Southland hunter Adam Hill began to walk out of the Invercargill District Court yesterday when it became apparent the man who mistook him for a deer and fatally shot him would not be sent to prison.

They made comments such as ''joke'', ''disgrace'', ''rubbish'' and ''I'll see you round, bro'' as they left, and shouting could be heard coming from the corridor outside the packed courtroom.

Artist and well-known gun-safety advocate Wayne Edgerton (56), of Tuatapere, was being sentenced after pleading guilty last month to a charge of carelessly using a firearm and causing Mr Hill's death.

Many of those in the courtroom wore fluoro vests as a show of support for the father, who was wearing an orange vest when he was shot once in the chest by Edgerton in the Longwoods, Western Southland, on April 13. Mr Hill (25) died instantly of massive internal injuries.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment and, in emotionally laden victim impact statements, eight members of Mr Hill's family had made it clear they thought nothing short of prison was an appropriate punishment.

Judge Michael Turner was nearing the end of his decision when he said, while he was aware of the family's views, he considered home detention was the appropriate punishment for Edgerton's ''error of judgement and stupidity''.

He paused briefly while about a dozen people left the courtroom before sentencing Edgerton to seven months' home detention, ordering him to complete 400 hours of community work and ordering the forfeiture of his gun.

He also ordered Edgerton to pay $10,000 in emotional harm reparation to Mr Hill's partner, Christine Pink.

At that, Ms Pink, who had been distraught throughout most of the two and a-half hour sentencing, ran from the courtroom crying.

She was followed from the room by a young woman who pointed at Edgerton's wife and shouted obscenities as she left.

Edgerton, visibly upset during the sentencing, was taken from the dock downstairs to the holding cell area below the courtroom.

Asked for comment after the hearing, Mr Hill's father, David, said a home detention sentence counted for nothing.

''He goes home to cuddle his wife tonight, but Adam is never going home to cuddle Christine again. It's very upsetting.''

However, he said there was nothing he could do but accept the sentence.

''For me, I'm closing the book and laying Adam to rest ...''

Mr Hill's mother, Barbara Herrick, who lives in Australia, said in her victim impact statement the law had recently been changed in Australia so people who abused or killed animals would automatically receive prison sentences and she could not understand why people in New Zealand who killed others would not go to prison, too.

Outside the courthouse, she said the sentence was ''ridiculous''.

''You can't kill someone and get seven months' home detention. It's wrong. ''Adam's life was worth more than seven months.''

She said family members would be lobbying for the law to be changed so those who shot others should be charged with manslaughter and should face a jail term.

She was with a group of about 30 Hill family supporters standing outside the courtroom, obviously upset over the sentence.

Two police officers watched, and their presence inflamed some, who made it clear they did not want or need the police.

One member of the group said they were waiting for Edgerton to leave the court so they could ''abuse the crap'' out of him.

After about half an hour, when Edgerton had not emerged, the group dispersed.

Mr Hill (25) was hunting with his father and his cousin Steve Sycamore the day he died.

In his victim impact statement, David Hill said he was not with his son when he died and he received the devastating news from Mr Sycamore a short time afterwards.

He handed Judge Turner a framed photograph of his son taken that day.

In it a smiling Adam stands in full hunting gear, including his high-vis vest, and is about to leave a clearing and enter the bush.

''It was taken a few hours before his death. It is gut-wrenching to think he was walking to his death,'' David Hill said.

David Hill said said he was ''dumbfounded'' how Edgerton, who was about 41m away from his son and had a clear line of sight, could have mistaken ''two boys in bright orange'' for a deer.

Ms Pink's statement, read by Helen Herrick, said Ms Pink's ''whole world had been ripped out from beneath her''.

Edgerton had ruined Ms Pink's life and those of their children.

Their goals of getting married, buying their own home and one day buying a farm had been shattered because of Edgerton's stupidity.

Mother and children had also had to leave their home on the farm and return to town.

Barbara Herrick said her son was an ''amazing man'' and her heart had been ripped out because her baby boy was gone forever.

''He should have been there for [family] milestones like birthdays and Christmases and holidays ... and now those occasions will always be tainted with grief.''

In her statement, read by her daughter-in-law, Steve Sycamore's mother Kathy said her son had been traumatised by the death of the cousin who was also one of his best friends.

He was in pain and having nightmares, she said.

''When Adam died, part of him died, too.''

Mr Hill's grandfather Don Hill said the effect of losing a grandson ''at the pinnacle of his life'' had been profound.

Several of those who spoke said Edgerton was not wearing his spectacles the day Mr Hill died and was not able to see his target clearly.

However, Judge Turner said an optometrist's report showed Edgerton required glasses only for reading, not for driving or distance vision.

Edgerton's carelessness was at the highest level, and it seemed his desire to shoot a deer overwhelmed safety procedures, he said.

He said April 13 was a fine day, Edgerton was an experienced hunter familiar with the Longwoods, he was close to his target and Mr Hill was wearing an orange vest.

For those reasons he found it ''inexplicable'' that Edgerton mistook Mr Hill for a deer.

However, he said Edgerton was a first offender - apart from minor traffic offences in the 1970s - and until now had ''led a blameless life''.

He had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, was genuinely remorseful about what he had done and had offered to take part in restorative justice, which the Hill family was not willing to consider at this time.

''Yours was a momentary lapse of care which had tragic consequences for the victim and his family, and for you and your family.

''You broke the golden rule of hunting and the consequences could not have been more devastating,'' Judge Turner said.

Earlier in the hearing, Edgerton's counsel Richard Smith said his client wanted to make a reparation payment to Mr Hill's family but there had not been an opportunity to discuss that with them.

Judge Turner called a 10-minute recess so the offer could be discussed.

When court resumed, Judge Turner said the family was not willing to accept the $10,000 offered but would leave it to him to decide whether a payment was appropriate.