BANGOR, Maine — The judge called it “a hunter’s worst nightmare.”
The prosecutor insisted it was a crime of negligence, while the defense attorney described the discharge of the gun that caused a man to lose his right eye as an accident.
No matter how the May 11 shooting in Chester was characterized Thursday at the Penobscot Judicial Center, the man who pulled the trigger will spend 30 days in the Penobscot County Jail.
Superior Court Justice Kirk Studstrup sentenced Joel Susen, 29, of Lincoln to 60 days in jail with all but 30 days suspended after he pleaded no contest to assault while hunting, a Class D crime.
Susen admitted that while hunting with friends on May 11, he hit Adam Jewell, 30, of LaGrange with a blast of birdshot from about 40 yards away in a wooded area near 440 North Chester Road.
“I acknowledge my offense against the people of this state and Adam,” Susen told the judge. “I mistook Adam for a turkey.
“I pray and beg everyone affected by this, especially Adam, will find it in their hearts to forgive me,” he said as his voice broke with emotion.
In addition to jail time, Studstrup ordered Susen to perform 40 hours of community service over the next year. The judge said Susen should spend that time speaking to groups about hunter safety.
Susen faced up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
As result of the accident, Jewel lost an eye and still has pellets embedded in his face, neck and torso, according to previously published reports.
Jewell did not address the court Thursday, but Margaret Gray, an assistant district attorney for Penobscot County, read his victim impact statement to the judge. She declined to provide a copy to the Bangor Daily News.
Despite earlier statements that he held no ill will toward Susen, Jewell wrote that his life has been “drastically altered” by the shooting.
“I’m not sure if it’s truly understood how close I was to dying,” Gray read from the statement. “It’s a miracle that I’m alive.”
Jewell declined to speak with reporters and did not explain how his change of heart had come about.
More than 60 people from Lincoln Christian Fellowship, the church Susen and Jewell attended before the shooting, attended Thursday’s sentencing. Many of them had submitted letters in support of Susen, who works at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor as an X-ray technician, defense attorney Don Brown of Brewer pointed out to the judge.
Steve Brown, pastor of Lincoln Christian Fellowship, urged Studstrup not to send Susen to jail.
“Joel said that when he saw Adam after the shooting, he was broken, broken,” the minister said. “That’s not going to change if you give him six months or six years.”
The pastor and defense attorney are not related.
Defense attorney Brown asked that his client not be sentenced to jail time for “an accident.”
The defense attorney also said his client had pleaded no contest instead of guilty because of the possible impact the plea might have on the outcome of a lawsuit. After the sentencing, Brown said that Susen has not been sued over the shooting.
Prosecutor Gray recommended that Susen serve 60 days.
“It’s obvious what we have here is a hunter’s worst nightmare, whether the injury is to a fellow hunter or a passer-by,” Studstrup said in imposing the sentence. “This is not a crime that requires specific intent. What the state needs to prove is criminal negligence and that Mr. Susen failed to positively identify what he was shoot-ing at.”
Studstrup said the state had met that burden.
Susen will begin serving his sentence Saturday morning.
By statute, Susen will lose his hunting privileges for 10 years, according to a press release from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.