July 13, 2013

A shot in the woods: Starks clash ignites age-old tensions between hunters, landowners

Kerry Hebert was shot Oct. 31 during a fight over hunters' rights, when he grabbing a rifle held by Robert Pond, 76, of Hartford, and after Hebert punched Burpey Pond, 72, of Naples, in the mouth, according to police reports

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

STARKS — Kerry Hebert, a self-employed contractor, had dropped off his wife and two children at a Halloween party at the Starks Community Center last fall. It was approaching dusk as he drove back home.

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Oct. 31: Kerry Hebert is shot on Mount Hunger Road after confronting group of hunters including Robert and Burpey Pond. Maine State Police, Somerset County Sheriff's Department and Maine Warden Service respond, interview witnesses and collect DNA samples. No arrests are made.

Nov. 6: Somerset County Sheriff's Department submits Hebert's clothing and Robert Pond's rifle to the Maine State Police crime laboratory for forensic analysis.

Feb. 13: A report from the crime lab finds Hebert's DNA on Robert Pond's gun and does not find Burpey Pond's blood or DNA on any of Hebert's clothing.

March 5: Police resubmit Pond's gun to the crime lab for a gunshot residue and distance determination test.

May 17: Crime lab report verifies that Hebert was shot while the gun was in contact with his body. The DA's office makes the decision to take the case to a grand jury.

June 6: Somerset County grand jury decides not to indict Robert Pond.

On Mount Hunger Road, which is also the driveway to his house — the only one on the dirt road — he stopped the van and got out to speak with a group of hunters.

Among the five hunters were two brothers — Burpey Pond, 72, and Robert Pond, 76 — who were tracking a deer they had shot in the nearby woods.

Hebert asked the hunters not to hunt near his home, and they began arguing. The argument turned into a fight. Burpey Pond and Hebert grappled and Pond lost three teeth. Robert Pond intervened and Hebert grabbed his rifle.

It ended when Hebert was shot in the side, the bullet breaking two ribs.

Hebert said, "You shot me," and drove off, Burpey Pond told police afterwards.

Those details about the Oct. 31 shooting are from newly released police interviews and reports and are the first public view of the names of the hunters and what happened that late afternoon in the central Maine woods.

Those interviews and reports, from the Somerset County Sheriff's Department, were released this month after the Morning Sentinel filed Freedom of Access Act requests for the documents.

The reports offer the most detailed description yet of the shooting.

The confrontation itself wasn't unusual in a state where hunter access to private land is a tradition, but the result was: one of those involved was shot. The newly released information details just how difficult it was for authorities to determine what happened and who was at fault.

In the nine months since Hebert was shot, little information has been made public by police or Hebert. More questions were raised last month after the police investigation was brought before a Somerset County grand jury, which did not indict the Ponds or Hebert. Grand jury proceedings are private.

Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said she made the decision to take the case to the 23-member grand jury because police couldn't determine what really happened or who was at fault, even though Hebert was shot point-blank and authorities knew who was involved.

"There were two very different accounts and ultimately that is why we felt a grand jury should decide this case," Maloney said.

The case was also unusual because both parties involved were injured and because forensic evidence, twice submitted to the Maine State Police Crime Laboratory, corroborated pieces of both sides' stories, Maloney said. Robert Pond has maintained that he did not shoot Hebert and that Hebert pulling on the barrel of his rifle is what caused it to go off.

Hebert, 57, who is the husband of Town Clerk Jenn Hebert, declined to comment on the newly public information about the shooting.

In a prepared statement to the Morning Sentinel, Hebert said he was disappointed that the district attorney's office didn't pursue criminal charges against the Ponds and that there were "a number of discrepancies and inaccuracies" in the police reports.

Neither he nor his attorney, John Alsop, would say what in the police reports was inaccurate, however.

Tenuous relationship

The shooting highlights the tenuous relationship between Maine's hunters and its property owners as both sides navigate the centuries-old tradition of open access to private land for hunters and other sportsmen.

Doug Rafferty, spokesman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said that in the past people have been accidentally killed by hunters who misidentify targets and they do not consider what is on the other side of a target, or are not aware how close they are to a home or camp.

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Kerry Hebert

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