SOUTH PARIS, Maine — The Hebron man charged with killing a woman on opening day of the 2017 deer hunting season was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in prison with all but nine months suspended after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
Robert Trundy, 40, was scheduled to be tried before a jury next week at the Oxford County Courthouse, where he was sentenced Tuesday. But his attorney struck a plea agreement with the Maine attorney general’s office under which an additional felony charge of failure to give aid was dismissed.
Trundy shot and killed Karen Wrentzel, 34, of Hebron around 10:30 a.m. Oct. 28, 2017, while she was digging for gemstones on her land. In interviews with Maine game wardens after the shooting, Trundy admitted that he did not properly identify his target when he pulled the trigger, as required by law, according to court documents.
Wrentzel’s death evoked reminders of the 1988 killing of Karen Wood by a hunter while she was on her property in Hermon. The hunter, Donald Rogerson of Bangor, said he shot at a deer. One grand jury refused to indict him. A second did, but after standing trial he was acquitted of the charges.
The killing led to a handful of new laws to improve safety in the Maine woods, including the target identification law. But the state law that allows hunters an implied right to access land as long as the land has not been posted with “no trespassing” or “access by permission only” signs remained. That’s a law that some questioned after Wrentzel’s 2017 death.
Trundy told wardens that he saw a “brown thing” move but also said that he did not see an outline of a deer, Assistant Attorney General Robert “Bud” Ellis, who prosecuted the case, told the judge Tuesday. When he fired a shot, Trundy immediately heard a scream but did not go to the place where Wrentzel fell, Ellis said.
Trundy apologized Tuesday for his actions. He addressed his brief remarks to the victim.
“I lost my soul that day, and you lost your life,” he said. “You are with me when I wake up in the morning and when I go to sleep at night.”
Trundy’s family and friends sat behind him in the gallery but did not address the judge.
Wrentzel’s family members objected vehemently to the prosecution’s decision to drop the failure to render aid charge. Her uncle, Jon Spofford, described her as well-read, funny, stubborn and independent.
“She died alone, innocent and afraid,” he told Superior Court Justice Andrew Horton. “The first responsibility of a hunter who may have caused injury to a human being is to identify himself to the injured person.”
Trundy, who was hunting that day with his father, Ralph Trundy, 72, of Hebron, told game wardens that when he realized he had shot a person he was not able to render aid. Instead, he called his father to say he thought he had shot someone.
Horton said that Wrentzel did nothing wrong the day she died.
“Mr. Trundy is the one who did something wrong,” the judge said. “But until he fired the shot, he was acting legally [by hunting on Wrentzel’s land]. My interpretation of the law is that he did not do what the law required in rendering aid to the victim.”
Horton said that even though the charge of failure to offer aid was being dismissed, he considered Trundy’s actions after the shooting to be an aggravating factor in the case — something that made Trundy’s sentence longer than it might have been had he gone to Wrentzel to see how seriously she had been injured. The judge also said that the sentence sent a message to hunters that there are serious consequences to their actions.
The plea agreement was a joint recommendation from Ellis and defense attorney Scott Lynch of Lewiston.
Lynch said late Tuesday that the plea agreement became the best option for his client after Horton excluded evidence the defense and the prosecution had planned to present to a jury. Other factors that led to Trundy’s decision not to go to trial included conflicting testimony expected to be presented to a jury about a possible ricochet off a hemlock tree and a report from one game warden that he found deer tracks 20 feet from Wrentzel’s body. That was inconsistent with other game wardens’ reports, according to the defense attorney.
“Both families are grieving in their own way and a trial could have been a winner takes all outcome,” Lynch said. “Each side had strong points and counterpoints. We were fully prepared to have a trial, but all of [these factors and more] resulted in a new plea offer from that state that we weighed carefully and accepted, which allowed everyone to have some closure.”
The most recent incident of a non-hunter being killed by a hunter was in 2006 in Paris, which is adjacent to Hebron. Megan Ripley, 28, was fatally shot in a wooded area near a field behind her family’s farmhouse. Timothy Bean pleaded guilty to manslaughter in that case. He was sentenced to two years in prison with all but 30 days suspended. Bean also was ordered to pay $5,000 to reimburse the family for funeral expenses and to speak at hunter safety classes.
The medical examiner determined Wrentzel died of a gunshot wound to the lower torso. Her body was found about 200 feet from where wardens determined Trundy fired his .30-06-caliber rifle, which did not have a scope.
The shooting occurred on the first day of Maine’s residents-only firearms deer season. Wrentzel’s land was not posted against hunting, and she was not wearing hunter orange, according to the Maine Warden Service.
Trundy has been free on $2,500 bail since his first court appearance Nov. 8, 2017. He was ordered to report to the Oxford County Jail on Sept. 16.
In addition to prison time, Trundy was sentenced to four years of probation and ordered to pay $928 in restitution for funeral expenses and perform 100 hours of community service focused on hunter safety courses. He also was ordered to forfeit the rifle. Trundy is prohibited from possessing firearms for the rest of his life. Under Maine law, he may apply for a bow hunting permit in 10 years.
Trundy, who has no prior criminal history, faced up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000 on the manslaughter charge.