20 Year Old Facing Manslaughter Chargers In Duck Hunting Accident Gone Wrong
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20 Year Old Facing Manslaughter Chargers In Duck Hunting Accident Gone Wrong

A day of duck hunting has turned into a criminal case and a possible 20 years in prison. A 20-year-old is facing manslaughter charges after a duck hunting accident.

Both Gaige Zook and Jackson Harbor went duck hunting in Wyoming. The took along Maurizio Justiniano, an unlicensed hunter, who wanted to tag along. However, during the trip, Justiniano ended up passing away following a fatal gun shot.

Goshen County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Lamb responded to the emergency call.  "I arrived at the junction of Wyoming Highway 156 and road 37. I exited road 37 at its end. And crossed a large field to the north and ended up just south of the North Platte River," Lamb said in a statement. "I was dispatched there for a call about a gunshot wound to a 19-year-old male hunter. I arrived with EMS (emergency medical services) and there was EMS personnel already with the victim by the river."

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The three of them sat in a driftwood blind. Zook decided to shoot a duck since he hadn't killed any so far that day. However, his gun misfired. He then used Harbor's 20-gauge to shoot instead but missed. While tinkering with his own gun, the 20-year-old accidentally fired the gun, striking Justiniano in the stomach.  "You shot me," Justiniano reportedly said.

Zook hugged Justiniano to put pressure on the wound. Emergency services arrived to assist the young man. "A medic came to me while I was gathering statements and taking photographs and stated there was nothing more they could do to help Justiniano," Lamb wrote. "And (they) stopped treatment."

20 Year Old Facing Manslaughter Charge

Police decided to arrest Zook several months later believing he failed to practice proper gun safety. "I believe that Zook failed to properly and safely clear his weapon of malfunctions and by having it pointed in an unsafe direction when it discharged directly led to and caused the death of Maurizio Justiniano," Lamb concluded.

As such, prosecutors are pursuing manslaughter charges.

"It was filed by the Goshen County Attorney's Office that on April 28 I did issue a criminal warrant for you, and that was issued on the day of request," Judge Hibben addressed Zook. "That warrant was quashed, and you are appearing here on summons. It reputedly informs the court, Mr. Zook, that you did unlawfully, on January 20, 2024, involuntarily and recklessly kill a human being without malice. You did involuntarily but recklessly kill Mauricio Justiniano, which states to be against the peace of Wyoming. The formal name by the state is involuntary manslaughter."

The 20 year old is currently a student the University of Wyoming. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

"I am required to consider the seriousness of the charges, and it is very serious. I don't set a bond by review or in considering you to be a danger to the community. Sometimes this is true, but I don't think it's true here," Judge Hibben said. "I do, however, set a bond due to the seriousness of this, and one which carries a maximum penalty in prison of up to 20 years. So, Mr. Zook, in light of all these things, it is one where you need to have some skin in the game."