Hunter who killed Colorado boy he mistook for elk gets prison time

DENVER A hunter who admitted fatally shooting a 14-year-old Colorado boy after mistaking him for an elk was sentenced on Wednesday to five years in prison, prosecutors said.

Guy Leslie Pohto, 60, pleaded guilty in January to felony manslaughter and one count of hunting in a careless manner, a misdemeanor, in the death of Justin Burns, who was bowhunting with his father when he was killed.

Pohto, who lives in Minnesota, was with a group in the Uncompahgre National Forest of western Colorado hunting with old-fashioned black-powder rifles in September when he heard the archers making elk calls, Mesa County Chief Deputy District Attorney David Waite said in a statement.

“Shortly after he (Pohto) heard some elk calls, he saw movement in the brush, and before verifying what he was shooting at, fired his weapon,” Waite said.

A single bullet struck the boy in the chest, Waite said. Pohto did not offer any help but went to get his hunting companions, according to the statement.

Due to the remoteness of the area, help was a “long way off” and the boy died by the time emergency crews arrived, Waite said.

The boy’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against Pohto about a month after the shooting, accusing him of “outrageous” and “atrocious” conduct.

Since Pohto did not respond to the lawsuit, the family has asked a federal judge to enter a default judgment against him. A hearing on that issue is set for next week, court records showed.

Mesa County District Attorney Daniel Rubinstein said in a statement that although Pohto did not intend to kill Burns, his “reckless conduct” merited a prison sentence.

“Hunting is a big part of this state’s rich culture,” Rubinstein said. “Every hunter knows that it is not an activity to take lightly, and his actions (Pohto’s) cannot be characterized as an accident.”

Colorado is home to one of the largest elk herds in North America, with an estimated 270,000 of the large, deer-like animals, also called wapiti, roaming within its borders, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials.

At the time of the shooting, it was the start of the autumn rutting season, when bull elks emit loud bellows, called bugling, to attract cows and lock antlers with rival males in displays of dominance.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)

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