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Safe Hunting?

Hunter found guilty of manslaughter

August 29, 2002

By DANI DODGE

Mail Tribune

The morning of Nov. 4, 2001, was cool and crisp as Ryan Leon Wilson and his hunting buddies made their way up a ravine on public lands near Butte Falls looking for black-tailed bucks.

Donald Hauser, hunting to Wilsonís right, called out "Donít shoot. Itís a doe."

But 41-year-old Wilson only heard the sound of a deer making its way up the steep forested hillside behind him ó and to his right.

As a safety precaution, Wilson shouted out to the other hunters to determine their positions. Two answered back. Hauser didnít.

"I could still hear the deer," Wilson testified Wednesday, his words coming out in gasps and sputters, choked off between deep sobs. "I turned and looked up there. I saw four legs and a body."

Wilson said he could see it going down the hill sideways.

"I swore it was a deer," he said. "I pulled up and shot."

Then he heard Hauser: "I heard him yelling ĎYou killed me.í "

On Wednesday, a 12-person Jackson County Circuit Court jury determined Wilson was guilty of second-degree manslaughter for recklessly firing his rifle and killing Hauser. Judge Patricia Crain presided over the two-day trial. The jury reached a verdict in two hours.

Hauser had been upslope and about 175 yards from Wilson when Wilson fired. Wilson admitted he didnít check the scope on his .338-caliber rifle before squeezing off a shot.

"I saw four legs going up there," he said balling his hands into fists and making a prancing motion in the air. "I turned up and shot. I aimed at the right shoulder."

Wilson, a Medford father of two grown children who works at Shermís Thunderbird, will be sentenced Sept. 5. He faces a minimum sentence of six years and three months in prison.

About two dozen of Hauserís friends and family sat through the trial, including Hauserís wife, Cathy, and sons, aged 10 and 14.

"Iím happy with the verdict," Cathy Hauser said. "I think what Ryan did was reckless. He heard a noise and shot into the bushes. Iíve hunted since I was a little girl. You donít do that."

Wilson and Donald Hauserís brother, Carl, had been best friends since attending Medford Senior High School together. As a teen, Donald would tag along with the older boys.

But over the years, Donald Hauser ó a 34-year-old Pepsi service man from White City ó became much more involved with family activities than hunting with his brotherís friends, his wife said. He coached Little League, Pop Warner football, his wifeís softball team and played baseball himself.

Hauser had just gone through a hunter safety class with their oldest boy, Cathy Hauser said.

"He was a safe hunter," said Cathy Hauser, whose first date with her husband was a squirrel hunt.

Wilson testified he also had gone through several hunter safety courses. He had not been drinking or doing drugs the day of the shooting, he said. He just thought he saw a deer.

But not even Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Matt Chancellor said Wilson aimed to kill Hauser.

"We are not alleging he intended to shoot Donald Hauser," Chancellor said. "What we are saying is Mr. Wilson was aware of and disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk."

Defense attorney Bob Abel said, though, that Wilsonís mistake didnít rise to the level of a crime. Maybe the level of a civil lawsuit, he reasoned, but not a crime.

"He shot at what he thought was a deer," Abel said. "He was wrong. Is he a criminal? Or did he just make an awful mistake?"

The jury foreman declined to comment on the verdict. Wilson, who remains free on bail, also declined comment.

Donald Hauserís brother, Carl, who was Wilsonís best friend, said heís only spoken to Wilson once since the shooting and that conversation was "short and unpleasant."

Still, he was crying after the verdict.

"It was a stupid accident ó stupidity on his part," Carl Hauser said. "But whether this is the right result, I canít say. There is no right result."

Reach reporter Dani Dodge at 776-4471, or e-mail ddodge@mailtribune.com  

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