A stone and a white oak tree commemorate the life of Karen Wrentzel. Credit: John Holyoke

HEBRON, Maine — While the man accused of shooting Karen Wretzel a year ago has yet to stand trial, Wrentzel’s family says harsh sentences are a sure way to entice future hunters to make safety a priority.

If convicted of manslaughter, the defendant, Robert Trundy of Hebron, would face up to 30 years in prison. Family and friends say they fear the sentence would be far shorter and would not serve as an adequate deterrent to other hunters.

“I realize when they do the sentencing they’re going to look at what previous sentencing was, but it shouldn’t be like that,” said Jon Spofford of Hebron, Wrentzel’s uncle. “[Hunters] need to know that whatever you see in your sights is worth your life. That you’re 100 percent sure that you would bet your life when you’ve taken another human being’s life.”

The most recent similar incident, with a nonhunter being shot and killed by a hunter, occurred in 2006, when 18-year-old Megan Ripley was fatally shot by a hunter in Paris.

According to news reports at the time, Ripley was shot in the chest while in a wooded area near a field behind her family’s farmhouse. The hunter, Timothy Bean, subsequently pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to two years in jail with all but 30 days suspended. He lost his hunting license for life and was required to pay $5,000 to a state-run victim compensation fund that paid for Ripley’s funeral expenses. Bean was also required to speak at hunter safety classes.

Wrentzel’s brother, Jeremy Wrentzel, said a more severe sentence is needed.

“What happens in this case, how it turns out, determines whether this is going to happen again,” he said. “No one has had a severe sentence for doing this, so it keeps on happening. Maybe if he spends more than a few years in jail the next hunter who goes out there and pulls the trigger will think a little harder before they pull the trigger.”

The state’s target identification law is important, according to Wrentzel’s mother, Debbie Morin of Lewiston, as is placing the blame on the person who pulls the trigger, rather than the victim.

“It irritates me when I hear people say, ‘Make sure people are wearing orange.’ It shouldn’t matter. I don’t care what you’re wearing. I don’t care if you’re wearing white mittens,” Morin said. “People shouldn’t be shooting at something that’s not a deer. The law is that you’ve got to see the head and the torso [of the target animal].”

Bruce Tibbetts of Whitefield, who is married to one of Karen Wrentzel’s cousins, said the shooter deserves a sentence that recognizes the incident’s seriousness.

“I’m a retired Marine, and I spent most of my career instructing people how to shoot, what to shoot at,” Tibbetts said. “If one of my jarheads had done something like this guy [allegedly] did, by not identifying the target, even in a combat situation, he would be at [United States Penitentiary] Leavenworth right now, for the rest of his life.”

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...