OCEANA COUNTY, Mich. - The trial for Roger Hoeker, 62, started Wednesday, June 12, more than a year since he was accused of shooting Billy Gort Jr. in the head while they were on a squirrel hunting trip on Feb. 18, 2017.
Hoeker, Gort and another teen were on the trip in Hesperia as a part of a youth outreach program called Christianity Outdoors. Hoeker was also a Michigan hunter safety instructor. He told police that one of his shots ricocheted off a tree, hitting Gort in the back of the head.
At a preliminary hearing last year the lead detective said that he searched the tree where Hoeker said he shot at the squirrel, but could not find any signs of a bullet that ricocheted.
The second teenager on the trip previously testified saying he heard two shots occur four to five seconds apart and saw Hoeker fire the second shot. He said he could not see Gort though, and a few moments later, Hoeker started calling for him.
In his testimony, the teenager said after the shooting, Hoeker gathered all the guns and ammunition and put them in his truck. And he pulled the truck closer to the area so Gort could be carried to the vehicle.
The 62-year-old was originally charged with involuntary manslaughter, but those charges were reduced to recklessly discharging a firearm—a high-court misdemeanor with a maximum of two years in prison if convicted.
In August 2017, Billy Gort Jr.'s family reached a $1 million settlement with Christianity Outdoors. His family previously expressed that they'd like to see Hoeker in prison for life.
During Wednesday's opening statements to the jury Oceana County Prosecutor Joseph Bizon told jurors the case was about "responsibility."
Bizon went on to tsay Gort was down-range from Hoeker and his shot "should not have been taken."
Hoeker's attorney Mark Hunting pointed out to jurors his client has been a certified hunter safety instructor for 40-years, and was not acting careless or reckless the day Gort died.
"There are no winner in this case," said Hunting.
The first witness was Michigan State Trooper Brittany Johnson. Johnson said she found Hoeker and another teenager in an area known for hunting. Johnson was sent to the location by 911 for a shooting accident involving injury.
Hoeker's call to 911 was played for the jury. Johnson recalls finding Hoeker calm while the other teen was "crying hysterically." According to Johnson's testimony within the first few minutes of arriving on scene both teens blamed the injuries to Gort on a bullet that ricocheted.
The trial resumes Thursday morning.
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