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Inwood man gets eight days in jail in hunting death

April 14, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A Berkeley County, W.Va., man was sentenced this week to eight days in jail and one year of home incarceration in the shooting death last fall of a 26-year-old man with whom he was hunting in Hampshire County, W.Va.

David Clarke Butler of Inwood, W.Va., entered a guilty plea to one misdemeanor count of negligent shooting in the death of Herald Hart Bennett of Charles Town, W.Va., Hampshire County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Moreland said Wednesday.

In a sentencing hearing Tuesday in Romney, W.Va., Butler was ordered by 22nd Judicial Circuit Judge Jerry Moore to pay the funeral expenses for Bennett, who died Oct. 24, 2009, near Romney, after being shot with a .22 magnum rifle, according to Moreland.

Butler, who was 61 when the shooting occurred, will lose his hunting privileges for five years because of state sentencing guidelines for the conviction, Moreland said.

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While serving his term of home incarceration, Butler will have work privileges, Moreland said. Butler will be supervised by the probation office in Berkeley County, Moreland said.

The state was prepared to present evidence at trial that Butler "did not properly identify his target before shooting" while turkey hunting with Bennett the morning of Oct. 24, Moreland said.

Butler was indicted on the misdemeanor charge in January and could have received a maximum sentence of one year in jail, Moreland said. Butler is expected to serve the eight days of incarceration at Potomac Highlands Regional Jail in Augusta, W.Va., Moreland said.

The men were hunting on property that Butler owns or leases in an area known as Fox's Hollow along the South Branch of the Potomac River near Romney when the shooting occurred at about 8:30 a.m., Moreland said.

Moreland agreed with an earlier statement by the state Division of Natural Resources, which indicated that heavy brush, rain and fog contributed to the shooting.

Moreland described the shooting as a hunting "incident" rather than an accident.

Butler took a shot at a turkey on the first day of the fall season and missed, and the bullet struck Bennett, the DNR stated. Bennett was walking on a roadway below Butler when the shooting occurred, according to the DNR.

Bennett had hunted on Butler's property for several years, according to his father, Herald Francis "Chip" Bennett, who owns an insurance company in Charles Town.

Bennett's father said Wednesday that the family was aware that Butler could have received more jail time, but decided that was too much, given Butler was a family friend.

"It's been difficult," Bennett said of his son's death. "The loss of a child is just something no one expects."

The family has established the H. Hart Bennett Foundation, which will support the advancement of youth in agriculture in Jefferson County, Bennett said.

The foundation has been warmly received by the community and Bennett said the foundation will support agriculture-based youth activities, including the Jefferson County Fair, which played a significant part in his son's life.

"We want to do some good things in his name," Bennett said.

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