Kevin Wood interview

Posted Nov. 14, 2008, at 6:17 p.m.

BDN: I’ll hop right in here. As I said in my e-mail to you, my goal is not to reopen old wounds and rehash that case. There has to be a jumping off point the case is going to be mentioned in the story, but my focus and the way that I’ve spoken to our managing editor is to look at the case and to move forward with it, to move forward 20 years and to say, how is the climate that created a myriad of problems, including the way that you were treated by the media and the state, how are things different, how are hunting laws different, maybe the big question is, if, God forbid, something like that happened again, is Maine prepared to deal with it in a different way, maybe.

Kevin Wood: Those are all excellent questions I’d like to know the answers to.

BDN: I would, too.

KW: I think those are very appropriate questions. I think the jist of the Portland magazine article touched on some of those issues. I felt the comments about, or the discussion about the, what was it, the 1991 law, the identification law that actually did pass through the Legislature, but correct me if I’m wrong, the one time it was tested, correct me if there have been subsequent trials, or accidents where this law came to question, but the one that he referenced actually was a bench trial where the accused was acquitted, I guess.

BDN: I believe that is true. I know that we had another one up here in the Bangor area, gosh, the trial was probably two years ago, and he was convicted, but the penalty phase was, to many of those involved, the penalty was not nearly substantial enough.

KW: Was the victim killed?

BDN: Yes. By his friend, and that was one of those cases where it was blatantly, well, it was proven in court that what the guy did was illegal on many terms, including that he was not le-gally hunting at the time. It was well after dark when he did shoot his friend.

KW: And that may have made it easier to convict, not really addressing the issue of whether the law as written is sufficient on its own merits to be used to convict someone.

BDN: Yes. I would agree with that. Let me take a step back to 20 years ago. Obviously when you moved to Maine there were things about the state that you and Karen found appealing. In the wake of the shooting, I’m sure that you learned or felt you learned some things about certain people in Maine and perceptions that existed that might have been surprising. Is that accurate? Can you talk about that a little bit?

KW: Well, when you’re looking for places to live, there’s a lot of reasons why you look for places, and there’s assumptions one makes about the places you select. Unless you have people you know ahead of time that have lived there and have a better sense of the community and the people and the values, you’re not likely to be able to be sensitive enough to pick up on that. And I think most people would give a community the benefit of the doubt. When you meet people that you’re interviewing for prospective jobs and you meet people that are natives or community people that are trying to sell you a house and people that are genuinely interested in getting to know you, they’re friendly to you. Karen and I had no reason to believe that the values or the reaction to a tragedy of this nature would be met with the community response as it was. Don’t misunderstand me. I met many wonderful native Mainers. I don’t blanketly condemn the state or the community or the people of Maine. I’m just talking about the reaction of perhaps, I can’t even say it’s a majority, but certainly a vocal portion of the community. Obviously the letters to the editor, the slant in the newspaper and the coverage were painful.

BDN: I think you’ve made that clear over the years; I’ve read the op-eds and the letters that you’ve written and the comments that you’ve made, that it was not a blanket condemnation, I think that you had never stepped forward and made that kind of comment. It’s good to still hear today.

KW: And similarly, the position I have on hunting. A week ago I was hunting pheasant. I’m not anti-hunting. I’m very pro- responsible hunting, obviously, as I’ve said in the past. We have to be held accountable for our actions, not just in hunting, but also in life, frankly. But clearly there are rules in hunting that have to be followed, in order to maintain not only your own safety and the safety of the people you’re hunting with, but other hunters out there or in the case of residents close by. That’s why there are rules about hunting distances from houses and identifying targets and such.

BDN: Were you a hunter before? Had you hunted before you came to Maine?

KW: Yes. Pheasants and quail.

BDN: I don’t think that anybody ever … maybe nobody ever asked you that question.

KW: I think they did.

BDN: I can’t recall ever seeing that or hearing of it.

KW: There’s been … well … I talked to … 20 years ago or 15 years ago I talked to so many people. I know it on several occasions I’ve mentioned that in interviews or in other … situations or venues. I don’t know that’s ever been discussed maybe in the local newspapers there.

(10:00) BDN: What is it, and I hadn’t planned on going off in this direction this early, but what is it about hunting that you do enjoy. I know I got into the hunting game later in life, I’ve only been hunting for seven years, but I know that most of my days out afield are just basically nature hikes. That’s the way my days go. But what is it about the sport that with the history, and with what happened, that it’s still a pastime that you go out and take part in and enjoy?

KW: Years ago I sat in on, it was kind of an in-service at our psychology group. It happened as much of an entertainment as it was a review of psychological research, but there was an individual by the name of Rhodes, Dr. Rhodes (sp) from one of the Wisconsin schools that had done some research on what motivates hunters and he looked at it from a perspective of ages, or longitudinally, that is, what motivates typically newer hunters and especially younger newer hunters is the acquisition of game, and success is defined as being able to take something back from the hunt in a tangible way, of the game, basically. As one matures as a hunter, I think the appreciation of just the experience is much more valuable and much more cherished. And I think that’s true. I enjoy the opportunity to be with friends. I’ve hunted with these fellows for many, many years and I just enjoy their company, the camaraderie, the fun of being together and doing a pleasurable activity. I enjoy the walk along the hunt. I enjoy the excitement of, the possibility of flushing a pheasant. Early on I think my hunting was, my interest in hunting, was generated by a mentor, if you will, a very good friend, an older friend who had Brittanys. I had a Brittany pup out of his line. The joy was just magnified all the more being able to watch the dogs work. That just added to the pleasure.

BDN: Do you still have bird dogs?

KW: I have a lab-springer spaniel mix that doesn’t hunt. She’s an indoor dog and my daughters and my wife have sissified her to the point where she’s a wonderful indoor dog but she’s not any good of a hunter.

BDN: I ended up getting a springer spaniel a few years ago and the goal was that eventually he might end up being a bird dog, and a similar thing has happened. He’s a great house pet, but has showed very little interest, and I didn’t know how to train a bird dog at that point. So he’s a great dog, but birds and him? I don’t think he knows what a bird is any more.

KW: You can see the instincts in this dog of mine. She’s real curious about other birds and will go on point periodically, but she’s real timid and I suspect that shotguns going off would terrify her. And I’d rather not put her through that, either. But the Brittany that I had been given by my friend actually came out to Maine with us. Unfortunately I had to give her back to my friend because under the circumstances I felt I wouldn’t be able to give her the justice and be the father that I needed to be to the girls. So I only had her for five, six years. But a wonderful dog. Wonderful dog.

(14:00) BDN: In the wake of the shooting, [when] the perceptions that some had were becoming public here in Maine, was there ever a situation where you found yourself in a store, or at a gas station, where you heard people, not knowing who you were, that were saying things of the sort that, well, we both know the kinds of things that were being said at the time.

KW: I think it only happened a couple of times. Partly because much of the amount of time I was in Bangor, I think they were return trips to try to sell the house, and I spent most of the time at the house and not in the community very much. But certainly there were occasions and I had heard from my friends conversations overheard by them. One instance was I think when the trial verdict was announced, my friend or his wife were at a junior high school soccer match, obviously the news was big news in Bangor. It was announced over the loudspeaker and the crowd cheered. Things like that.

BDN: Wow … I’ve lived here my entire life and I know the lay of the land. I was in college at the time and it was a very divisive issue up there at the time as well. Yeah, I was at Maine. But I have a hard time getting my head around that one. I just don’t understand. You know, I just don’t get it.

KW: Just amplified all the more by, you can’t know what a wonderful person Karen was. And the, the contrast between people who never knew her to be glad that the man who killed her is set free is just a hard pill to swallow.

BDN: It’s gotta be. It’s gotta be. I can say this, If I’d heard about that kind of reaction and I were you, I don’t know that I’d be as gracious necessarily as you’ve been over the years.

KW: I try not to be an angry person. As I’ve said in past interviews, I see nothing but bad things happening if one focuses on anger and hatred. I’ve got more important things to do, and specifically raising the kids, that was the focus of my efforts, and not going to dwell on things that I know are going to upset me or [I’m] going to be angry about and lead to counterproductive behaviors. So that’s been the overriding perspective or philosophy that I’ve tried to use. Obviously I’m not successful at it all the time, but generally speaking it worked fairly well.

BDN: So the twins are now in college, is that right?

KW: They are. They are. They’re both doing very well. I think they are fairly well-adjusted young women, they just had their 21st birthdays on last Oct. 24. They’re both studying hard and concentrating on health-related professions. I’m very happy and very proud of them.

BDN: Would you like to put out what universities they’re at, or would you rather not go that direction?

KW: I’d rather not. But they’re not at the universities that were cited in the Portland article, by the way.

(19:00) BDN: One of the stories that I did read, and it was early on in the grieving process, it might have been five years, you said you hadn’t spoken to the girls about the details of how Karen died yet, and that when the time came you would do that. At what stage did that happen, and when it did, that must have just been a heart-breaking situation for you and the girls both.

KW: I’m not sure they really have all the details. I think that at one point they were of the belief that, as young children would expect when somebody does something bad, that the bad person gets punished and that’s way it is. I think for a long time they assumed, probably, that the man who killed their mother was sent to prison. But I think at some point along the way I explained to them that that really didn’t happen. I can’t say that they’ve really asked me too much about the details about the shooting. They’re both sensitive kids and I’m not gonna volunteer information that I know would be painful and hurtful to them. They know the general ideas about what happened to their mother. I should add that I can’t be certain that they don’t know the details because they have spent a lot of time with Karen’s family and it’s possible that they may have been given that information by other family members. But they’ve never really asked me. And knowing how sensitive they are it’s quite possible that they’re avoiding asking me directly for fear of it engendering pain for me. That’s quite possibly the reason why.

BDN: Have you been back to Maine since the details with the house were all done, and all that.

KW: Yes. I’ve been back. I was trying to think when that was. The mid-90s. It might have been late 90s. I’m not exactly sure. With the girls, and with my wife, Betty. We spent, I had a weeklong conference in Cape Cod and we spent a few days up in Bangor and I took ‘em to Acadia National and then drove back down to the Boston area. I took them to the house that we had lived in and had opportunity to meet several of my friends and associates at Eastern Maine.

BDN: That trip must have been a difficult journey in a lot of ways, to go back to the house.

KW: It was. I had very mixed emotions about going into the backyard and decided not to. But I drove the kids by the old neighborhood and the house and noticed that the neighbors that I was familiar with were no longer there. So it’s not like we visit with neighbors we had lived with before.

BDN: Had that neighborhood grown up even more? I know that it was a new neighborhood when you folks moved in, right?

KW: Yes, it was. There were a few more houses I think down at the end of the cul de sac, but there weren’t very more houses. I’d say maybe two or three more houses. But as a whole I don’t think there’s any more than 10, somewhere in that range.

BDN: In past stories that I’ve read you’ve said that you haven’t spoken to Mr. Rogerson. Is that still the case, and if it is, is it something that you’d want to have changed at some point.

KW: I have not spoken with him. I honestly don’t see any purpose in doing it. I don’t know what would be accomplished, frankly. He’s gone on record as recently as the Portland article and certainly before that, that he’s of the opinion that perhaps maybe he’s not even responsible for it. And if that’s his position, what’s the point of discussing it? I’m not sure what else there is to say about that. Let me make one comment about that. I think there was an article, a rather poorly written article, in Yankee magazine, I think there’s some inaccuracies, it was November of 2003. It talked about tragedy in Maine woods. I don’t know if you’ve seen that article. There’s some pretty significant inaccuracies there I think. But there is, I think, a description or an interview by a psychiatrist, that I think captures what in fact people often do when they’re faced with the reality of dealing with something they’ve done and over the course of time perceive otherwise because it’s too harsh or too difficult for them to accept that reality. And that’s understandable.

(25:00) BDN: I just had a discussion with another source for the story just the other day, the deputy commissioner of inland fisheries and wildlife here, the man that wrote the target identification law, actually

KW: Who wrote that?

BDN: Paul Jacques. (spells name) and he said the same thing. He said, you know, there comes a point, and not even to use this case specifically, although we were talking about that, if something bad happens and you caused it, your brain is going to, at some point, come up with a plausible story that you can live with because if it doesn’t the results are just going to, you’ll just drive yourself crazy. You have much more of a clinical background than I do for sure, but I think it’s similar to what you’re talking about as well.

KW: People do that to some degree, I suspect, but there is a point at which others react in, perhaps, a little bit different direction. That is, they recognize that they are fallible human beings and they do make mistakes, sometimes very costly and tragic mistakes, and choose to accept the responsibilities for that. That’s part of a value system that one lives by, or not, or some variation of it. So I think there are some people that really do accept the responsibilities. We’ve seen individuals that, as horrible as it is to believe that they’ve done it, they accept it and then they accept the consequences accordingly. It doesn’t happen a lot, unfortunately, but some people truly do believe that and live by that and accept that.

BDN: Do you live right now in an area that is rural, where there is hunting nearby? I guess I’ll just leave it at that? Is it a rural background, and if it is, is it worrisome to you?

KW: That’s a very good question. In 2003 my wife and I moved out with the girls to a development, an association of about 40 houses in the county where Iowa City. We’re about two miles outside of the city limits. And it’s basically former farmland, some rolling hills, and where our house is is where a pasture was. And surrounding the association, I don’t know the exact number of acres, I’m guessing somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 acres, of former farmland, surrounded by farmlands. There is hunting, deer and pheasant hunting, around. I hear shotguns going off just over the perimeter of our association boundary line. I should add, quite often before the legal time limit of 8 o’clock in the morning. About three years ago there was an incident of a deer slug being pulled out of a drier in the utility room of one of my neighbors. It had gone through the house and drywall and lodged in the drier. So those things are present. Those dangers are still here. There are still slob hunters out. Yeah. I worry about it. When we decided to move out here, that was certainly on my mind, it’s the chance one takes, but you just can’t hide all your life. You have to do things that you think are in your long-term best interest, and I wouldn’t assume that that kind of hunting would necessarily happen this close to the house, but it does.

BDN: Do you, when, for instance, your neighbor finds that slug, or other matters come up out there in Iowa, do you ever step into an activist or an advocate role of trying to educate and trying to say, look, I’ve been there. I know what can happen. And we’ve got to start looking at things different. Or do you just choose not to go back and relive those things by taking that step?

KW: When you say advocate, I certainly encourage people, when there was talk about that in the association, some of my friends and associates in the area know of my past and others that don’t, but I discuss in terms of what you can do, what you should do. If you see hunters close by, or if [there are] situations of hunters acting in ways that are improper, to call the authorities immediately. When I first moved out to this association, I was on the association board and one of the things I wanted to do was post the perimeter — one of the first things I did — with no hunting, no trespassing signs.

(31:00) BDN: So that did take place, then?

KW: Oh, I did. Myself and another fellow did that, I think one of the first falls I was out here.

BDN: With you enjoying pheasant hunting, have the girls ever gone hunting with you? Do they enjoy it? Have they taken up the shooting sports at all?

KW: No. Not at all.

BDN: We talked just a little about it in the beginning: You’ve kept up with, at some level, with the changes to Maine law that occurred, really it’s not overstating it to say it’s a direct result of what happened with Karen. There’s target-identification requirements, there is a hunting homicide charge now that’s available. Do you have reflections on that, and I gather that you think that it could go further. What more would you say ought to be done, not just here, but in other places?

KW: Having not read the law, I don’t know what it says or what it doesn’t say, other than the portion of it that was mentioned in the Portland article, I think it was. On the face of it it appears that common sense would dictate that it should be pretty clear to people what it means. On the other hand, depending on the way that it’s interpreted, how defense attorneys pick apart aspects of it, whatever biases they may have, whatever biases the ruling judge might have. If there’s a way to say that it’s not sufficiently clear, then that can be used as the excuse to let people off. But actually I can’t comment directly on the particular law. But in general, if there is discussion about and charges that can be made or at least stronger efforts can be made to hold people responsible for negligence, grossly negligent behaviors, and Karen’s death was in some way helpful in bringing that about, perhaps that was some good, however small that might be. I don’t know what the statistics are like in terms of deaths as a result of hunting since her tragic death.

BDN: 13. 13 in 20 years.

KW: How does that …?

BDN: It’s a significantly lower rate than it had been in past years. The worst was back in the ‘50s, before hunter orange came in. There were as many as 19 in a single year back in the ‘50s. It had then tapered down through the ‘70s and into the ‘80s, but there were still 3, 4, 5 a year.

KW: Did you factor into that, fewer people hunting? That could account for why there are fewer people being killed. But the other issue that we’ve really yet to mention is the insistence on the part of the community that in some way Karen was at fault because she should have known better. That she should never go out on her property, in her backyard, however wooded or un-wooded it may be, without wearing blaze orange during hunting season. I would take issue with that. The responsibility is on the hunter to identify his target. It’s just that homeowners on their property bend over backwards to make it easier for hunters to be more careful, I think is going a bit too far.

(36:00) BDN: I’ve spoken with a couple of people in the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife community here on this story and both of them have said an interesting thing that was very similar. They said, from their point of view, whether it’s a landowner or just someone out on public land, those people ought to be able to wear all brown and wear a costume of a deer if they want to, because people don’t walk like deer. Their feeling is that this is just inexcusable any time it happens. Mistaken-for-game shooting is, they’re both 100 percent with you on that. It’s just something that shouldn’t happen. And that’s their goal to get that word out: That, hey, the impetus is on the hunter to do everything they can to make sure that the sport that they want to take part in is safe. Not as safe as possible, but safe.

KW: But you know, as long as there are hunters that are going to say, either delusionally or outright lies, that “I shouldn’t be held responsible for killing this person because I did shoot at a deer. It just so happens that the person that was hit and killed happened to be standing in back of or in the flight of the bullet,’ which was the case, apparently, in the defense position of the individual who shot the person in the canoe, hunting geese there in ’94. As long as that defense holds and there are courts that will allow that, that’s a sad commentary it would seem to me.

BDN: The standards of the target identification law that was passed, that is one of the standards. They foresaw that, I think based on the defense that was offered in Karen’s case, that not only is it the requirement of a hunter to know what it is they’re shooting at, but they must know what is beyond. I asked a warden the other day, the deputy chief warden, ‘It seems like the blanket statement that was needed all along, that once that bullet is out of the gun, it’s yours no matter what, and what it does is your responsibility and you’ve got to know where it goes and what it’s capable of doing,’ and he said that’s exactly the truth. That’s what we were looking for and that’s what we were hoping for.

KW: But unfortunately, that’s not always the outcome in terms of real court issues and real-world situations. That was the hope of the law, correct?

BDN: It is. Is it a systemic thing, where you can make laws to whatever extent you want, and it still is going to come down to interpretation of judges or juries or other people who might not view it as the lawmakers did at the point?

KW: Certainly. That’s always the case. You think back to civil rights laws, murderers of civil rights leaders who were clearly guilty of that were judged by their peers in their community and were found to be either innocent or minimally responsible and let off with either acquittals or slaps on the hand for murder. It’s ultimately, the courts are not perfect. But as long as there’s provincialism and bias toward the victims, the accused are going to get off, or the guilty are going to get off, or justice won’t be served. That’s true for not just hunting situations, but any law, anywhere.

(40:00) BDN: And that was, I imagine, from reading the stuff that I’ve read, that was a piece of what made you want to move first to New York and then to Iowa was that perception, the victimization of the woman that you loved.

KW: The victimization, the blaming of her. As many good people as I met in my brief stay in Bangor, if that reflected aspects of the community, I just couldn’t raise my kids in that community.

BDN: Do you think in other places that you have lived there are undercurrents of people that would be the same way. I know that we likely have some of the best around here, and likely some of the worst. My hope would be that other places are similarly divergent, that that mindset is not necessarily belonging to Maine. Or is just there a different climate and perception among hunting communities in other places that you’ve been?

KW: Well, I’ve lived in Virginia, the southwestern part of Virginia, for a number of years. I’ve lived in upstate New York a good part of my life. I’ve lived in the Midwest for much of the last 30 years. As a child I lived in Arizona, I’ve lived in a small town 20 miles outside of Philadelphia. Admittedly during different times in my life, at different ages, obviously my perception of life and community are different. With the exception of a comment or two made by my landlady when I was going to graduate school in Virginia — she was the local historian for the county and knew a great deal about the Civil War and hated Yankees in a generic sense, in a historic sense — of course, I’m from upstate New York, I felt a little bit uneasy at that point. But can’t say I’ve ever lived in an area, based on my life’s experiences within that area, where I felt like so much of an outsider as I did in Bangor as a result of Karen’s death. Now, had that not happened and I’d lived in Bangor all my life or for the last 30 years, maybe differently. But based on life’s experiences, that provincial attitude of protecting their own and victimizing the outsiders, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in any other place I’ve lived. Or certainly not experienced it to that degree.

BDN: That’s an interesting point. Having lived here, I’ve certainly seen that provincialism. Do you think that the treatment — and I’ve got an attitude on this as well, but I won’t share until after you answer — do you think the perception or the treatment would have been different if you’d been a guy who’d grown up in Hermon, Maine and been born right there and lived there for your whole life?

KW: My honest opinion? I think it would have made a difference. I think it would have made a difference. If Karen had been a native as well. What’s your opinion?

(44:00) BDN: I think you’re right. I think you’re right. I don’t like it, but I think you’re right. Do you have anything else that you’d like to add? Anything else that you think I haven’t gotten to that you’d like to talk about.

KW: Let me just add another comment about the vigor and the … I don’t have the correct word for it exactly … that the NRA … I can’t agree with, I’ve never been a member of the NRA. I think that represents good things as well as fanning flames, and while I don’t want this to be really discussed to any significant degree because I don’t think a great deal about it, but the experience I had talking to a group of homeowners in Michigan many, many years ago, I think epitomized the conflict between homeowners and hunters. And this association’s effort to make their perimeter a bit safer and to try to limit hunting in and around the area of their association, or around it, anyway, and the inappropriate behaviors. This was an open meeting where there was a committee that was going to rule on the homeowners’ request and the hunter’s group was catcalling and insulting and making comments all throughout the efforts on the parts of the homeowners to speak to the committee and not really giving them a chance. That represents, I think, some of the enflamed feelings and the animosity and bad feelings between people who don’t understand hunting and that drive some factions within the NRA, I’m sensing are just overboard, over the line. And frankly, that gives hunters a bad rap also, when you’ve got zealots that are pushing their positions to an extreme. Anything to an extreme you’re going to potentially run into some problems. I think that’s what’s happening.

BDN: Yup. I agree with that. I’ve also never been a member. Part of it’s because of what I do for work, I don’t belong to any of the local hunting clubs or any of that. I don’t want people to feel that I’m beholden to anybody based on what I write. But also, the NRA, I’m a compromiser, I guess, at heart, and I just feel there’s not enough wiggle room with them, to be representing me.

BDN: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

KW: If you’re going to talk about how well-adjusted the girls are, and really, they are. Wonderful young ladies, hard-working college students, I would request also that you would include a comment or two about this wonderful woman that I’ve married and who has become the girls’ mother. She has made the difference. I can not imagine what kind of father I would have been like without her help and guidance and completeness of her family.

BDN: It must have been a hard situation for her to step into as well.

KW: Well, I think she knew what she was getting into. We dated for a number of years, and she knew. Actually, she works for the University of Iowa and recalled reading the articles. Of course she didn’t know me then, but she was not unfamiliar with the situation. She’s a mature woman and part of the reason why I fell in love with her is because she was willing to accept the girls as is, and me as I am. I don’t know how else to say it, other than she loves the girls as much as if she had been their biologic mother. Now, I’ll never know what kind of a wonderful mother Karen would have been, but Betty is, in every truest sense of the word, can’t love these girls any more than any mother who just happened to be the biologic mother. In fact, I work with kids. I work with parents. I see many biologic parents who are irresponsible and poor parents, and Betty is anything but that. So being biologically related doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be a good parent or a good mother or a good father, I guess, what I’m trying to say. And vice versa.

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