Stephen Long shot and killed his son Samuel in a hunting tragedy
STEPHEN Long had already received the worst punishment a parent could possibly endure. The knowledge he killed his own son.
The “broken” father watched his son Samuel die earlier this year in a disastrous hunting trip where, in a moment of confusion, he shot the 24-year-old in the head, believing Samuel was a deer.
The tragedy was enough to even cause the judge to break down in tears as she passed sentence on Mr Long yesterday.
The 61-year-old admitted a charge of carelessly using a firearm causing the death and was seeking a discharge without conviction.
The father and son were on the trip on Stewart Island, in southern New Zealand, hunting for white-tailed deer with three others when the shooting occurred.
Samuel Long left the group about 9am on March 23 and went into the bush completely clad in camouflage gear while his father headed in another direction, also wearing camouflage hunting gear.
After some time Stephen Long thought he saw two white-tailed deer. According to the police summary of facts tendered to the Invercargill District Court, Stephen Long used both his naked eye and rifle scope to identify the target and thought he could see a deer lifting his head.
But the object was no deer. It was his son.
He fired his rifle and then walked the 20m to where he expected to find a deer carcass. Instead it was Samuel, dead from a head wound.
It was a fatal misjudgment.
His lawyer John Fraser said: “Circumstances conspired in that moment to convince him to take the shot ... and the result was a life sentence of grief for this man whose friends and family describe as broken,” the New Zealand Herald reported.
Stephen Long later told police his son was supposed to be in another area and was not wearing a bright orange hunting hat like he usually did.
Mr Fraser asked the court for a discharge without conviction. He argued the trip was well planned and that Mr Long — who had been hunting for 41 years — had been “100 per cent certain” he was shooting at a deer. However, his “cognitive bias” may have influenced his decision to shoot, The Southland Times reported.
The shooting had left him “broken” and his family didn’t want him convicted.
The lawyer said the level of carelessness was low and warranted a discharge without conviction.
Police prosecutors argued a conviction was needed because Mr Long had not identified his target and there was a need to deter others.
Judge Bernadette Farnan broke down in tears as she read the victim impact statements to the court.
“It’s very difficult for me too,” she said before taking a breath and carrying on. She said Mr Long had shown remorse and been punished enough by the tragedy, reportedRadio New Zealand
She discharged him without conviction and ordered the rifle be destroyed.
His family clapped and sobbed from the public gallery at the news. Mr Long and wife Helen left the courtroom holding hands.
Speaking after the sentencing, Mr Fraser told reporters shooting your own family member was probably the most powerful message about gun safety there can be.
“Even if Mr Long had been sentenced to home detention, which was the likely outcome had he not be granted a discharge, I don’t think the deterrent message would be any different.”