Hunter's death a homicide

Coroner's office ruling based on witnesses' accounts, time of shooting

Routt County Coroner Dwight Murphy has ruled the Sept. 20 death of a Wisconsin hunter a homicide.

On Tuesday, Murphy filed the death certificate for Gerald Holverson, 44, indicating the cause of death as a gunshot wound and the manner of death as a homicide.

Murphy said the ruling came from the witnesses' accounts of what occurred, the time of day the shooting happened, and with the help of the Routt County Sheriff's Office investigation.

The manner of death identified in a death certificate can be classified as either an accident, natural causes, suicide, homicide, undetermined or pending investigation. When a death is ruled as a homicide, it does not specify if the homicide was classified as murder, manslaughter, criminal negligence or recklessly causing the death of another, Murphy said.

Hunting shootings have been ruled as accidents or homicides, depending on the circumstances.

"From all the factors involved, I don't think I can call this an accident, but that doesn't mean it's Murder 1," Murphy said.

Murphy's ruling is separate from any charges the District Attorney's Office may file.

The District Attorney's Office has been waiting for Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James to return from vacation before filing charges. St. James returned Tuesday and said he is still unsure when or if charges will be filed.

"I don't know where the case will be in sorting through the priorities of what gets reviewed. It certainly won't be today, and it could be as late as next week or even beyond that," St. James said.

Holverson's body was taken to the Jefferson County Coroner's Office a few days after the death where an official autopsy was performed. Murphy said no alcohol or drugs were found in the body and the bullet went into his back in the right shoulder area behind the armpit.

The autopsy report did not indicate how far away the shooter was when the gun was fired.

The death certificate recorded Holverson's time of death as between 5:45 and 6 a.m. Sept. 20. It indicated that he died from a black-powder gunshot wound from a .54-caliber muzzleloader.

The shooter was said to have been a lifelong friend of Holverson's and a member of his hunting party. The shooter had a license to kill a bull elk, which means the animal had to have antlers. From the onset of the case, investigators have believed the shooter thought he was aiming at an elk, Murphy said.

Holverson died on Bureau of Land Management land about a mile west of Waller Reservoir in the King Mountain area of South Routt. He was one of six people in a hunting party from Wisconsin and Indiana that had been hunting for about a week.

Three were bowhunters and the others were muzzleloaders. The group had numerous hunting licenses, including those to kill elk and deer.

At the time of the shooting, the only piece of orange clothing Holverson was wearing was a faded orange hat. Colorado hunting law does not require bowhunters to wear any orange.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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