The mother of shooting victim Misty Taylor says the men charged in her daughter's death should have known how to safely handle a rifle.
Until the night his friend Misty Taylor died, Donald R. Koch had never handled the rifle whose bullet killed her, and he didn't know where the gun's safety was, a detective testified Wednesday at Koch's trial.
Koch, 21 of Topeka, is being tried in Douglas County District Court on involuntary manslaughter charges in the Nov. 24, 1998, shooting death of Taylor, 16. The trial opened Wednesday.
Koch was trying to get a better view of some deer when he climbed into the back of Joseph R. Beier Jr.'s truck with Beier's Ithaca .270-caliber rifle in his left hand, Douglas County Sheriff's Det. Lyle Hagenbuch said Wednesday.
The high-powered rifle went off.
Its bullet shattered the back window of Beier's truck and pierced the back of Taylor's head, killing her. Detectives later would find bullet fragments in the glove box of the Nissan pickup.
Hagenbuch interviewed Koch that night for the sheriff's department and said Koch was cooperative but obviously upset about Taylor's death.
After the gun went off, Koch heard Beier, Taylor's boyfriend, yelling 'Misty, are you OK?' " Hagenbuch testified.
Panicked, the men sped to a residence on Douglas County Road 2190, also known as Upper River Road, for help.
But it was too late for help, Douglas County Assistant Dist. Atty. Dan Dunbar said in his opening statements.
"There is no use for that. Misty Taylor is dead instantly," Dunbar said, guiding jurors through a present-tense verbal tour of the night.
Koch threw the rifle out into a ditch, causing it to break in two, Dunbar said.
As he explained the legal implications of the case, Dunbar charged jurors with dissecting two separate involuntary manslaughter theories. The first, that Koch acted recklessly by handling a gun he was not familiar with; or the second, that he was hunting illegally and that criminal hunting caused Taylor's death.
Defense attorney Matthew Works told jurors that Dunbar wants them to believe there was some intent on Koch's part that caused Taylor's death.
But Koch, who also faces conspiracy to commit criminal hunting charges, was remorseful, "he was sitting there crying," Works said. "Misty Taylor was a little, young girl in the prime of her life. But we can't go back and change what happened."
Her death was an accident, a tragedy, Works said.
After court broke for the day, Loretta McPherson, Taylor's mother, said she understands her daughter's death was an accident.
"But if they had practiced what they're supposed to know, it wouldn't have happened," she said.
The trial reconvenes at 9 a.m. today.
Beier goes to trial next week to faces the same charges as Koch, plus two drug charges.
-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.