No charges for man who fired gun, killing 9-year-old girl
OREGON CITY, Ore. - An Oregon City man will not face criminal charges after he inadvertently fired a shot that traveled through a wall and across a yard to hit and kill a nine-year-old girl.
On April 14, Shayla Schonnker was playing in the backyard about 50 yards away from the house when a bullet tore through a wall and hit her in the right cheek. She was killed instantly.
The bullet came from a handgun fired by Joseph Wolters, who is engaged to Shayla's mother. Police said Wolters was alone in a bedroom at the time practicing "dry firing" what he thought was an unloaded weapon.
Wolters was practicing for an upcoming firearms training to get a promotion in his job.
According to investigators, the bullet went through the bedroom's interior wall, traveled between two wall studs, through the exterior siding and then traveled across the backyard before hitting Shayla.
On Friday, Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote said that after reviewing the case, he decided to not file criminal charges against Wolters.
Foote said prosecutors spoke multiple times with both Wolters and Shayla's mother during the investigation.
Foote outlined his reasoning for not pressing charges in a letter to the Oregon City Police Department.
He explained how there was no question that Wolters fired the bullet, but the legal question was whether Wolters was criminally culpable by acting either "intentionally, recklessly or with criminal negligence."
Foote wrote that the OCPD investigation showed no evidence that Wolters intentionally fired the shot.
"Mr. Wolters has displayed deep and catastrophic remorse and depression. Police officers directly involved in the interviews have corroborated both the suspect's honesty and complete acceptance of responsibility for his actions," Foote wrote.
Foote said that proving reckless behavior requires showing that Wolters had been aware of Shayla's presence in the backyard and that he "consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk" that Shayla could have died if the gun fired.
He said there is no evidence that Wolters knew where Shayla was or that he disregarded the risk of her being killed.
To prove criminal negligence, the law says that "the risk of death be of such a nature and degree that the failure to be aware of it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care a reasonable person would observe in that situation."
Foote said to establish if that was the case, prosecutors examined the details leading up to the shooting, Wolters's background and tested to see if he was high or drunk.
The investigation found no alcohol or drugs, and no prior criminal history. Wolters is an Army veteran and prosecutors said he was trained to fire guns and had a reason to be "dry firing."
"Mr. Wolters had a legitimate purpose for engaging in the firearms 'dry firing' - he was preparing for an upcoming firearms training necessary for promotion to a new security position at his employment," Foote wrote.
Foote also said Shayla's mother has consistently told him she does not want Wolters criminally prosecuted.
"She remains mired in the overwhelming grief for the loss of her daughter," he wrote.
Based on the circumstances and the law, Foote said he does not have enough evidence to prove Wolters acted with criminal intent.
"No criminal charges will be forthcoming and the criminal investigation is closed," he wrote.