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Archive for Friday, August 6, 1999

JURY TO BEGIN DELIBERATIONS TODAY IN MANSLAUGHTER CASE

August 6, 1999

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Sympathy for Donald R. Koch is weighed against responsibility for the death of 16-year-old Misty Taylor in the manslaughter case.

Donald R. Koch may be sorry that his friend Misty Taylor is dead, but remorse isn't enough, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday as the second day of a Topeka man's involuntary manslaughter trial closed.

It's time to hold someone accountable for the 16-year-old's death, even though it was an accident, Douglas County Assistant Dist. Atty. Dan Dunbar said.

Jurors were scheduled to move the case out of the courtroom this morning and into deliberations, weighing evidence and Dunbar's words against those of Koch's defense attorney, Matthew Works.

Dunbar: "Sympathy has no place in a court of law."

Works: "You have Don's legal fate in your hands."

The jury -- seven men and five women -- must decide whether Koch, 21, is guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Two possible guilty alternatives stand before them -- that Koch is guilty of involuntary manslaughter because his actions Nov. 24, 1998, were reckless, or that he's guilty of involuntary manslaughter because Taylor, a friend who was just tagging along that night, died as a result of criminal hunting.

Armed with legal definitions and instructions from Douglas County District Judge Jack Murphy, the jurors left the courtroom after 5 p.m. Thursday, quickly picked a leader and announced they wanted to give the case a fresh look today.

Taylor died of a single gunshot wound to the head from the .270-caliber high-powered rifle that discharged in Koch's left hand during a hunting trip with friend Joseph R. Beier Jr., who faces a trial next week.

Koch, also charged with conspiracy to commit criminal hunting, took the stand Thursday and testified he took hunter safety courses in junior high and knew he and Beier were hunting illegally. They didn't have permission from the landowners where they were hunting, and they knew spotlighting deer was wrong, he admitted.

But Koch said he didn't realize Taylor was in danger.

Dunbar disagreed.

"I don't think you need to go to hunter safety class for this, but you know it's dangerous to point a loaded gun at someone, right?" Dunbar asked Koch.

According to testimony, Koch was climbing into the back of Beier's truck to get a better view of some deer when the rifle went off, firing a bullet that pierced the back of Taylor's head.

"How much more reckless could he have been?" the prosecutor asked. "The next step would be for him to aim the rifle at her and shoot her in the head. And that wouldn't be involuntary manslaughter, would it?"

Koch told jurors he wished he could go back and change everything about that night but quietly added that he knew he couldn't.

"Nobody contends this wasn't an accident," Works said. "Their lack of safety didn't cause this death. An accident caused this death."

Works said his client was remorseful but wasn't asking for the jury's sympathy.

"He's not nearly as sorry as Misty Taylor," Dunbar later countered. "He's not nearly as sorry as her family."

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is dgruver@ljworld.com.



UP NEXT ON TRIAL

Joseph R. Beier Jr.'s trial in Douglas County District Court begins Wednesday. Beier is charged with involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy to commit criminal hunting, possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia.

Beier, 21, is not accused of acting recklessly the night his girlfriend, 16-year-old Misty Taylor, died. But prosecutors say he is guilty of involuntary manslaughter because Taylor died during the commission of a crime, illegal hunting.

Involuntary manslaughter is a felony that carries a sentence of 31 months to 136 months in prison, depending on a person's criminal history.

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