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Archive for Saturday, August 7, 1999

IN DEATH OF FRIEND

August 7, 1999

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A jury handed down two guilty verdicts Friday against a Topeka man for involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy to commit criminal hunting. A judge will sentence him next month.

A 21-year-old Topeka man faces sentencing next month after a jury Friday returned two guilty verdicts against him in the shooting death of a 16-year-old girl.

After deliberating four and a half hours, the jury found Donald R. Koch guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the Nov. 24, 1998, death of Misty Taylor, who died of a single gunshot wound to the head when the hunting rifle Koch had in his hand went off.

The case Douglas County Assistant Dist. Atty. Dan Dunbar won Friday isn't one he'll toast.

"You don't celebrate a case like this," said Dunbar, who typically prosecutes drug cases for the district attorney's office.

A day before Taylor died, the principal at the Menninger Institute school she was attending had approved raising the teen-ager to the next grade level, Taylor's mother, Loretta McPherson, said.

But the girl didn't live to get the news.

The jury said Koch had acted recklessly and caused Taylor's death. Jurors also found Koch guilty of conspiracy to commit criminal hunting, a misdemeanor.

Koch was straddling the bed of a pickup truck when the Ithaca rifle -- a gun he'd never touched before that night -- went off in his left hand, according to testimony.

Koch's attorney, Matthew Works, argued throughout the three-day trial that Taylor's death was a tragic accident, not a crime.

Her eyes rimmed with tears, McPherson said she didn't know how to feel about the verdicts.

"I'm happy he's being held accountable for what he did," she said, her other children surrounding her. "I'm sorry for him, though."

Douglas County District Judge Jack Murphy set sentencing for Sept. 7. The sentencing range for involuntary manslaughter is 31 to 136 months in prison, though Kansas sentencing guidelines give Murphy some discretion in this case. People convicted of involuntary manslaughter who have either no criminal record or no more than two misdemeanor convictions can get probation. Works has said his client's record is clean, which means Murphy could sentence Koch to probation instead of prison.

"Quite honestly I don't know what the judge will do," Works said. "It's hard to predict."

Works said Koch, who bowed his head when the jury foreman read the verdicts, was disappointed but understood the jury's decision.

"He just wants to get this part of his life over," Works said.

Koch, free on bond, will continue to live with his parents and work, the Topeka attorney said.

On the stand Thursday, Koch admitted he knew he and friend Joseph R. Beier Jr., 21, were hunting illegally that night.

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

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