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Hunting Accident File > Safe Hunting?: > 2007

First time hunter kills man

Burlington, Vermont -- August 7, 2007

A second trial has started for a Franklin County hunter who fatally shot a farmer who was inside a tractor.

Collin Viens, 19, Georgia, first manslaughter trial last fall ended with a deadlocked jury. And then a judge rejected a plea agreement because it did not include jail time for Viens.

Collin Viens doesn't deny firing the fatal shot. He admits it. The question for the jury to decide is whether the shooting was a crime or a tragic accident.

It's a decision one jury was unable to make, and now a second jury gets to try.

"I could see the blood on his jacket and then...," said Casey O'Brien, choking up several times as he told the jury how he discovered his father-in-law Rejean Lussier, 60, fatally shot in a tractor two years ago.

Authorities quickly learned that Lussier had been shot by Collin Viens, 17-years-old at the time, who was out hunting deer for the first time.

"He was fooling around with his gun. Swinging the barrel and looking through the scope with his finger on the trigger and the scope settled on the tractor, and as Mr. Viens puts it" The gun went off," said Jim Hughes, Franklin County Prosecutor, in his opening statement to the jury on Tuesday.

Police say Viens ignored every hunter's safety rule. They say he also lied, initially claiming he shot at a coyote before he finally admitted he shot at the tractor sitting 250 yards away in the middle of a field on Lussier's farm in St. Albans. He did not know Lussier was inside. But the state said Viens' actions were reckless so they charged him with involuntary manslaughter.

"This is a trial of responsibility. This is not a case of an accident, certainly not a hunting accident. This defendant is responsible for the death of Rejean Lussier," said Hughes to the jurors.

Viens claims he was a kid guilty only of making a tragic mistake, not a crime.

"There was no reason this was anything but an accident," said Steve Dunham, Viens lawyer, in his opening statement.

"Collin Viens is innocent. He did not act with gross negligence." said Dunham.

This is the second time Viens has gone on trial for Lussier's death.

His first trial last fall ended in a hung jury. We were told that eleven of the jurors voted to convict, but the jury deadlocked because one of the jurors did not want the young man to go to jail.

Then in February this year Viens agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter in return for a sentence calling for no prison. But Judge Ben Joseph rejected the plea agreement saying that Viens needed to do some jail time.

That set the stage for the second trial which is expected to go to the jury for a verdict by week's end.

The trial is being held in Burlington because Judge Ben Joseph was concerned that it would be very difficult to find impartial jurors in Franklin County.

Brian Joyce - WCAX News

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