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Edwards man charged with shooting, killing uncle while the two men were tracking a wounded deer sentenced to six months in county jail

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CANTON - A 21-year-old Edwards man has been sentenced to six months in the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility after shooting and killing his uncle while the two men were tracking a wounded deer in December 2011.

St. Lawrence County Court Judge Jerome J. Richards also ordered Tyler M. Soper of 882 Trout Lake Road to serve five years’ probation, make restitution of $10,307 at $206.14 per month starting in March, pay $375 in surcharges and fees and abide by the terms of an order of protection directing him to stay away from the victim’s wife and her two children for his criminally negligent homicide conviction. He was represented by Canton attorney Charles B. Nash.

The county court judge told Soper he was no longer allowed to possess any weapons, including muzzleloaders and bows and arrows.

Soper had been charged with second-degree manslaughter by St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department investigators after he shot and killed Paul D. Hatch, 49, of 69 Hatch Road, Russell, at 4:45 p.m. Dec. 11 while the hunting companions were tracking a wounded deer.

Deputies said the two were on Mr. Hatch’s property approximately 200 yards off Fordham Road when he was shot in the chest. Mr. Hatch was taken to Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Potsdam, where he was pronounced dead.

According to court documents, Soper spent most of the day hunting with his 50-caliber rifle. “We came out of the woods sometime about 4 p.m.,” Mr. Soper said in his police statement. “We were going to go home, but Paul decided to drive up the Fordham Hill Road.”

While on Fordham Hill Road, Mr. Hatch pulled over and shot a deer, Soper told deputies. Mr. Hatch then drove off in a truck and asked Soper to follow the deer’s trail. While following the trail, Soper told deputies thought he saw the deer get up and he shot at it.

Andrew Wood, another of Mr. Hatch’s nephews, had St. Lawrence County Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Becker read a victim impact statement calling for Soper to be sentenced to state prison.

He noted his uncle was killed when Soper acted recklessly while hunting. “Paul was mistaken for a deer, and Mr. Soper, an avid hunter, should be punished for his actions. I miss him (Mr. Hatch) every day. He was a wonderful son, husband, father and grandfather,” the statement said.

It also suggested did not appear to have learned from his reckless behavior in December 2011. “Mr. Soper is a young man who has been in trouble all of his life. After the shooting I said I hope he learns something from this,” Mr. Becker read from a statement that suggested Soper had continued to drive recklessly, endangering the lives of others. “Mr. Soper shows no remorse for what he has done.”

Mr. Becker also had urged the court to sentence Soper to state prison. He said the probation department’s pre-sentence investigation revealed Soper had been smoking marijuana on a daily basis, information he suggested hadn’t been available at the time the Edwards man entered his guilty plea.

“It seems there might have been something else that came into play that day. Too many people’s lives have been affected, and there is simply too much in play,” the assistant district attorney argued.

Mr. Nash countered that his client is working and supporting his family and noted Mr. Hatch’s brother and sisters were looking for incarceration with conditions to be imposed, including a suggestion he be required to share his experience at hunter training safety courses.

“Nobody can change what happened that day. Nobody can condone his behavior. You have to know your target. He and Mr. Hatch were best of friends. He certainly didn’t want this result,” he added.

The defense attorney also read a statement written by Mr. Soper after his client struggled to share his message with the court. “I wish I could change it. I’ve replayed it in my head so many times ... If only we hadn’t gone hunting and if only we had gone home instead of going to a different area,” his statement noted.

“Paul was more than my uncle. He was my friend and like a second father to me. We fixed fences together, rounded up cows together, fished, hunted, worked on machinery and cut firewood. It is very hard going on knowing Paul isn’t there working on his farm, sitting in his chair reading Dr. Seuss books (to a child) and watching her grow or sitting at the kitchen table with Aunt Micky. To see the pain, grief and anger in Aunt Mickey’s face and know I caused that,” he added.

Soper’s statement noted he had talked with several of his uncle’s siblings Sunday night in what he called a positive meeting. “I tried to answer any questions they had,” he said, noting the evening finished with handshakes and hugs.

“They wished me well and hoped I make a good life for myself and my son. I want them to know I will do my best to honor Paul and raise my son,” Soper added in his statement.

Judge Richards noted he couldn’t hand down a sentence that could bring Mr. Hatch back to life or satisfy those family members seeking revenge for his uncle’s death.

“This is not an easy case. The costs are invaluable because you can’t measure the value of Paul Hatch. I don’t think anyone believes you intended to cause the death of Paul Hatch. That doesn’t minimize the fact that you caused the death of Paul Hatch,” he said.

He said Soper had disregarded common sense when he fired his weapon at a target he couldn’t confirm was a deer.

But he told family members the court couldn’t ease their pain. “There isn’t anything I can do that will fix the wound that has been created by what Mr. Soper did, what he failed to do. I can sentence Paul Hatch to prison for four years, but it won’t being Paul Hatch back,” he noted.

He urged family members to work to resolve their differences. “This is a family problem that only the family can fix. And it can be fixed. It can’t happen today, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” he noted.

Judge Richards said he believed Soper was remorseful. “That doesn’t mean he will be a perfect human being. I’m sure he will continue to struggle, but the sooner each one of you realize there is no affirmative action that can be done to make this better the better off you will be. Once he pulled that trigger, it was too late. He will have to live with it the rest of his life,” the county court judge pointed out.

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