Pittsburgh — A new trial for Ronald Morosko, the Pennsylvania muzzleloader hunter charged in the shooting death of a Texas bowhunter, was slated to begin Jan. 17 in Montezuma County, Colorado.
Morosko, 67, of Elizabeth, Allegheny County, is charged with criminally negligent homicide and hunting in a careless manner in the death of Gregory Gabrisch, in the San Juan National Forest Sept. 17, 2021.
Morosko, who was targeting elk with Slade M. Pepke, of New Eagle, Washington County, has pleaded not guilty.
Morosko’s original trial in Dolores County Court was declared a mistrial Oct. 31 after three jurors, an attorney and two courtroom staff came down with COVID-19, according to local media.
The prosecution had already rested its case, and the defense was on day two of presenting its case when the mistrial was granted, at the defense’s request, by Chief District Judge Todd Plewe, The Durango Herald reported.
“Basic hunting knowledge (is) to identify what your target is and beyond before shooting the gun.”
— Sheriff Don Wilson
District Attorney Matt Margeson had 90 days to decide whether to retry the case. The new trial is scheduled for seven days, with jury selection set to begin Jan. 17 and opening statements likely Jan. 18, the Herald reported.
“Nothing has changed as far as charges go. It’s a redo,” Margeson is quoted as saying in the Herald.
What has changed is the courtroom venue. Morosko’s attorneys, Kenneth Pace and Heather Little, succeeded, over Margeson’s objections, in getting the trial moved from Dolores County, where the incident occurred, to Montezuma County.
Morosko is alleged to have shot Gabrisch near the forest’s Kilpacker Trail, north of Rico, during overlapping muzzleloader, bowhunting, and rifle bear seasons.
According to the arrest affidavit, Morosko mistook Gabrisch for an elk.
Pepke was using a call to lure bulls for Morosko to shoot, and, according to the affadavit, several responded and were “making a lot of noise.”
“The elk were going crazy,” Pepke is quoted as having told authorities.
The affidavit states that Morosko claims he heard “a bugle and a scream” from a bull and thought it was approaching in his direction, and when he saw white in the pines he fired at what he thought was an elk.
Morosko is accused in the affidavit by Dolores County Sheriff Don Wilson of failing to follow safe hunting practices.
“Basic hunting knowledge (is) to identify what your target is and beyond before shooting the gun,” Wilson wrote.
“Ronald Morosko did fall below the standard of care by failing to property identify his target, resulting in the shooting of a person.”
Morosko reportedly told authorities that Gabrisch was wearing dark brown camouflage. Fluorescent orange is not required of bowhunters during archery season in Colorado, although it is mandatory for rifle and muzzleloader hunters.
If convicted of criminally negligent homicide, a felony five offense, Morosko could face up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Hunting in a careless manner, a misdemeanor, carries a fine of $1,000 maximum and/or jail time of up to one year.
Twelve individuals and an alternate were to be selected for the jury from a pool of about 300 prospects from Montezuma County, the Herald reported.
A judicial order stipulates that none will be automatically excused over concerns about COVID, “unless they have specific medical reasons that properly release them from jury duty.”
While the first trial, in Dove Creek, was broadcast live via WebEx Events and made available to the general public online, the new trial will not be videostreamed, according to the Herald, which published Plewe’s order.
“At the first trial of this matter in Dolores County, a Webex stream was appropriate because of the space limitations at the Dolores County Courthouse,” Plewe wrote.
“This was the primary reason for streaming audio and video of the proceedings.”
This trial will take place in the largest courtroom in the Montezuma County Courthouse, Plewe added, which can easily accommodate the media and interested persons.