The jury began deliberating on the Ronald Morosko hunting case Tuesday afternoon.
After the defense rested its case, closing statements were presented by District Attorney Matt Margeson and defense attorney Kenneth Pace. Morosko did not testify.
Chief Judge Todd Plewe of the 22nd Judicial District, gave jury instructions, then identified and temporarily excused two alternate jurors. The 12-person jury deliberated for about a half-hour, then reported it would resume deliberations Wednesday at 9 a.m.
They will determine whether Morosko is guilty or not guilty of the charges of criminally negligent homicide, a Class 5 felony, and hunting in a careless manner, a misdemeanor, in the shooting death of bowhunter Gregory Gabrisch on Sept. 17, 2021.
In closing statements to the jury, Margeson said the crux of the case is that when Morosko went hunting he was not allowed to shoot Gabrisch, and that in doing so his actions were criminally negligent because he ignored basic hunter safety rules.
“Morosko failed to perceive the substantial danger in the woods, that other hunters are in it, doing the same thing, trying to call in elk,” Margeson said. “Morosko said he shot at an elk. Gabrisch is not an elk.”
The charge of negligence matches the available evidence in the case, he said.
Morosko violated hunting rules because “he did not identify his target, he hit what he was aiming at,” Margeson said.
Morosko should have known to watch out for other hunters because he had seen one earlier in the area, he said.
Morosko and his hunting partner reported they were aware that other hunters were in the area, and has seen one the day before. Margeson said Morosko so he “should have known” about the risk, “but he failed to take that into account and that is negligence.”
The prosecution was not convinced that Morosko even saw an elk when he shot, Margeson said, and that his statements indicated he could have mistaken Gabrisch’s camouflage hunting gear for one.
When Morosko’s hunting partner called in an elk and heard a call back, the two should have realized it could be another hunter calling in elk, a scenario hunting experts said can happen.
“It is unreasonable to assume no one else knows that trick,” of an elk call, Margeson said.
Pieces of evidence in the case show negligence by themselves, and “when taken as a whole (it’s) why Greg is not here,” he said.
Margeson said the investigation could have been better, such as conducting a shooting reconstruction and finding the bullet, but the absence of those things had a minimal impact on the case.
The negligence took place when he did not identify his target, Margeson said.
In closing statements, defense attorney Kenneth Pace said the shooting was accidental and was a “horrible tragedy.” He added the overlap of archery and muzzleloader season and the fact that blaze orange clothing was not required for bowhunters was “senseless.”
The prosecution were convinced of criminal behavior before any investigation was done, Pace said.
“To them if an accident happens, it is negligence,” he said.
Pace said law enforcement showed investigative bias to fit predrawn conclusions.
Morosko is a very knowledgeable and prepared hunter with more than 50 years of experience, Pace said.
All that experience did not go out the window in an instant, he said. Morosko counted the antler tips, watched the bull elk for 20 seconds before firing, and he does not shoot at movement or colors.
Sometimes when you do everything correctly, an unexpected tragedy can happen, Pace said, but that does not meet the definition of negligence.
Pace said Morosko’s hunting partner testified he saw an elk moving toward Morosko before the shot.
It was a one-in-a-million chance that two hunters were calling in the same elk and the bowhunter got in between Morosko and the target animal, Pace said.
The trauma of the incident impacted Morosko’s ability to clearly explain what happened shortly after the incident, which an psychology expert testified is a common human response to a disaster.
Also, Morosko invoked his right to speak to a lawyer before talking with law enforcement, but they continued to interview him, Pace said.
Your right to remain silent and obtain a lawyer is to prevent law enforcement from asking questions to confirm a theory of what happened, a form of investigative bias that is not proper, Pace said.
Law enforcement also failed to conduct a complete investigation at the shooting scene, which would have shed light on what happened, he said. The lack of evidence creates reasonable doubt, which means Morosko should be acquitted.
“There should be no charge of a crime until a thorough investigation,” Pace said.