OR: Powers man pleads guilty in hunting death
Powers man pleads guilty in hunting death
By Jessica Musicar, Staff Writer
Thursday, January 15, 2009
COQUILLE - It was a preventable, tragic mistake.
That's what the family of Cody T. Armstrong, the Coos County District
Attorney and now the man who killed Armstrong say of an October hunting
accident that ended the 20-year-old's life.
On Wednesday morning, Powers resident Kelly E. Johnson pleaded guilty
to criminally negligent homicide with a weapon in the death of
Armstrong, when he appeared for a plea change hearing at the Coos County
Courthouse. Armstrong, also of Powers, died from a gunshot to the head
on Oct. 26 during a hunting trip in the Siskiyou National Forest near
During the hearing, Judge Martin Stone spoke to the 41-year-old
dressed in a blue Coos County jail jumpsuit, as Armstrong's family cried
from courtroom seats.
"The state is alleging on or about Oct. 26, 2008, in Coos County,
Oregon, you unlawfully, with criminal negligence, did cause the death of
Cody Armstrong, another human being," Stone told him. "Sir, do you
understand that serious charge?"
Johnson simply replied, "Yes, sir," and gave his guilty plea.
"Is what I read true?" Stone asked.
Again, Johnson said "Yes, sir" and made no other statement about the
Public defenders Carole Hamilton and Ron Cox represented Johnson, who
will be sentenced at 1:15 p.m. on Tuesday.
In addition to a potential maximum 10-year-prison sentence and
$250,000 fine for the class B felony, Johnson will have to pay $4,639 in
restitution for Armstrong's funeral. District Attorney R. Paul Frasier
said the State Crime Victims Assistance Fund had initially paid for the
funeral and the restitution would revert back to that fund. The family
held a memorial service for Armstrong on Nov. 1.
"He has to pay that regardless of the sentence," Frasier said.
Angie Armstrong, 45, Cody's mother, said she felt satisfied that
Johnson had been held accountable. She was joined by seven or eight
members of her family in the courtroom.
"It's not an accident to our family. He made a horrible, tragic
mistake and one that was overwhelmingly preventable," Angie Armstrong
said tearfully. "If children are going to hunt, they need to be
well-educated in what is right and what is wrong because things happen
just as tragic as this. I wouldn't want to see that happen for anybody."
She added that her son had been friends with Johnson for some time
and she and other family members had known him as well.
"We're not hateful toward him at all. We're remorseful for him and
his family, but he should be held accountable for what he did," said
Cody's 22-year-old sister Tara Armstrong of Coos Bay.
Frasier said he could not discuss the facts of the case until after
the sentencing hearing. However, he said Johnson, who'd originally been
charged on second-degree manslaughter, got criminally negligent homicide
instead because it's considered a lesser charge.
"You don't have to charge it because it's automatically included.
That's what he plead to, obviously, today," the D.A. explained.
In addition to the plea, Frasier said he'd wanted to add a condition
to prevent Johnson from ever owning or shooting a gun again. He
explained that typically, a person convicted of a felony isn't allowed
to have any type of firearm. However, there is a provision of the law
that allows a convicted felon, if he has behaved himself, to return to
the court after serving time and request relief from firearm prohibition
that would only apply for long guns - such as a rifle or shot gun - that
might typically be used for hunting. Because Johnson killed a man while
hunting, Frasier said that would be inappropriate
"What I was trying to do was set up something that would prevent him
from getting a gun in say 15 years from now," Frasier said.
Unfortunately, Frasier said, that will be difficult to do once
Johnson is no longer under some form of supervision.
"This was an incident that was totally avoidable. It didn't need to
happen," he said. "I just felt that under the circumstances of this
case, he should never have a gun again.".