Rotorua's Henry Worsp, who shot dead his hunting partner and friend James Dodds, was regarded by many as a role model when it came to safety, a court has heard.
Worsp, 37, was sentenced in the Rotorua District Court today to six months' home detention and 250 hours' community work after earlier pleading guilty to careless use of a firearm causing the death of 30-year-old Mr Dodds on September 7 last year.
The public gallery was packed with family and friends of both men, many of whom appeared relieved when Judge Phillip Cooper decided not to send Worsp to prison.
Judge Cooper said Worsp, an outdoor safety and emergency management consultant and Mr Dodds, a well-known Rotorua mountain biker and adventure sports businessman affectionately known as 'Dodzy', were out hunting in the Paeroa Ranges, south of Rotorua, when the incident happened.
According to the police summary of facts, the two had been separated for about 30 minutes when Worsp heard a noise from his right he believed was Mr Dodds. Shortly after he saw what he thought was a fallow stag. He checked through his scope twice before shooting his .270 rifle from about 34 metres. When he got to the target he realised he had shot his friend and tried to give first aid but Mr Dodds died instantly.
Worsp's lawyer, Paul Mabey, QC, said there was no excuse for the fact Worsp had failed to identify his target but the police summary, compiled by an officer who was an experienced hunter, explained how the mistake may have happened. It said what Mr Dodds was wearing and the fact he was in a crouching position meant he may have looked like the back of a deer, while a fern hanging in Worsp's line of sight looked like antlers. Mr Mabey said the degree of carelessness in this case was less than in other high profile hunting fatalities.
Worsp was a "respected professional in outdoor safety" and it was ironic and tragic he was in court on this charge.
"As counsel I can not remember a case where I have had the privilege of presenting so many references in support of someone's good character," he said. Worsp, who is married with two young children, was hugely remorseful and had accepted responsibility immediately.
Mr Dodds' long-term partner Gabrielle Molloy believed in forgiveness and was in court to support Worsp, he said.
"One of the things that has helped her get through the loss of her partner is her ongoing friendship with Henry and his wife."
Mr Mabey submitted that jailing his client would be beyond what was required by the principles of sentencing.
"He has killed one of his best mates," he said. "He will live with this for the rest of his life."
In sentencing, Judge Cooper said he had read victim impact statements from Ms Molloy and Mr Dodds' mother and brother who were all devastated by the loss of the "remarkable" Mr Dodds.
"Whether forgiving or retributive they [the statements] are an important factor to be considered but they are only one factor and are not determinative."
He acknowledged the high regard in which Worsp was held.
"You are regarded as careful and safety conscious and are seen as a role model and leader," he told Worsp.
However he said there were two main aspects of culpability - the fact Worsp hadn't seen enough of his target to make an identification and that he didn't know for sure where his hunting partner was.
"You were thoroughly familiar with having to identity your target beyond all doubt," he said. "You made a tragic mistake."
Outside court, Worsp's father Peter Worsp said it had been a tragedy for both families.
"It has been a tragedy all around for everybody. Henry is full of remorse," he said. "His sentence will go on for years."
He said he had gone into the court process with full trust in the judicial system and he was happy with the outcome of the case.
Surrounded by supporters, Ms Molloy also appeared relieved.
"I just want to say I'm really happy with the result, that's all I want to say," she said.