SPARTA, Wis. - After being told he was going to prison for 20 years, Russell Schroeder III had the same response he showed last fall after fatally shooting a La Crosse teen while hunting squirrels in rural Monroe County.
He said nothing.
Schroeder, 25, of Sparta refused to comment at his sentencing Tuesday at the Monroe County Courthouse, in a makeshift courtroom crammed with family and friends of the slain Logan High School student.
And he showed no emotion when Monroe County Circuit Judge Steven Abbott handed down consecutive 10-year prison terms in the death of Seth Hammes, 17, on Sept. 24, 2005 - an event the teen captured through images and voice on a video recording he was making for a future family hunt.
Schroeder was accused of shooting and then abandoning Hammes in the woods near Cataract, Wis. He pleaded no contest March 31 to second-degree reckless homicide and first-degree reckless injury, both while armed.
In court documents, Schroeder told authorities he saw what he thought was a squirrel, fired two shots, then heard a human cry out.
He found the teen, dressed in full hunter camouflage and a face net, on the ground with two wounds in his back.
On Hammes' camcorder, a male voice can be heard telling the teen he would get help.
Instead, Schroeder went to a birthday party, spent time at home playing video games and then went to work.
In court records, Schroeder said he told no one about the shooting because he "freaked out."
In opting for prison time, Abbott singled out the phrase as a sign Schroeder has several personality disorders.
"It's significant that you freaked out for hours and hours and did nothing at that time. How anyone could look normal at a birthday party or work after what you'd been through would indicate you have some real problems," Abbott said.
Public defender Alan Beatty had sought probation and a year in jail, arguing Schroeder's only crime was not reporting the shooting.
"When you compare this to other reckless homicides, you find this isn't a person shooting into a place where other people are present or known to be present," Beatty said. "… This is a case of someone who went hunting, shot at what he thought was a squirrel and hit a person he did not know was there."
Monroe County District Attorney Dan Cary said in court Tuesday had Schroeder simply sought help, he might have avoided prison.
Cary said Schroeder told a former girlfriend in a taped phone call the teen would still be alive if he'd worn blaze orange clothing that day.
"Not only is he minimizing his own involvement," Cary said, "but he's shifting blame to Seth Hammes."
He also noted Schroeder's first words to Hammes, caught on the camcoder's audio: "Oh sh-, I didn't see you."
Hammes' family and friends chose not to comment after the sentencing. But Hammes' aunt, Ann Lounsbrough, urged Abbott to give Schroeder the maximum sentence - 40 years in prison and 20 years of extended supervision - and said the family still grieves.
"That act changed our world, and words cannot convey the impact that crime has had on those who loved Seth," Lounsbrough said.
Dan Springer can be reached at (608) 791-8269 or email@example.com.