JEFFERSON — A man who fatally shot a hunter in Monroe Township in 2017 was sentenced Thursday to more than a decade in prison.
Darrell A. Shepard, 41, was sentenced by Judge Marianne Sezon to 12 years in prison on counts of involuntary manslaughter with a firearms specification, having weapons under disability, injuring persons or property while hunting and failure to report knowledge of a death. Shepard could have faced up to 14 years in prison for the crimes.
Shepard shot and killed Randy Gozzard, 62, who was hunting with a group of people on land on Horton Road just outside the Conneaut city limits in November 2017. Gozzard, who was originally from Ashtabula County but had a home in Florida, hunted on the land with friends in the past.
Gozzard was described as a loving, humble and talented person who excelled and could win at almost anything he did. His wife, Judee, said her husband was always a voice of reason and hated conflict. Gozzard, a graduate of Edgewood High School, had two children of his own and later remarried and filled a fatherly role for four step-children, she said.
The Gozzards were two days away from closing on a home in a Cleveland suburb, where they planned to move to be closer to grandchildren, when Randy Gozzard was shot and killed.
“He couldn’t wait to teach them all to fish, golf and to cheer them on at their sporting events and special occasions,” Judee Gozzard said. “Mostly, he was excited about being present in their lives. The entire family was looking forward to us moving back to Ohio during the warmer months.”
Judee Gozzard told the court there was nothing to obstruct Shepard’s view of her husband that day and she questions whether it was really an accident.
“It is not up to me to judge you — I have faith God will be your judge,” she said.
Shepard’s attorney Candace Garret later said she wanted to make clear to the court his crime was accidental.
Judee Gozzard said her soul mate and life have been taken away. Since her husband’s death, she has been diagnosed with depression and stress-induced medical disorders. Randy Gozzard was always doing things for her like pouring her a cup of coffee when he got one for himself, turning on the seat warmers in her car and kissing her goodbye even if he was just going up the road to get gas, she said.
Gozzard was patient with his grandchildren, spending hours putting Legos together or untangling fishing lines, and he never raised his voice, she said.
Judee Gozzard said she is praying friends and family can forget and eventually forgive Shepard, because her husband was a loving person who would not want anyone to have a hateful heart when they think about his death.
“Do not allow this man to take anything else away from you,” she said of Shepard. “In God’s name I pray Randy’s family and friends can eventually forgive and forget this murderer.”
Shepard, who had an active warrant at the time of the shooting, was on the property near his home and was hunting without a license. Shepard had failed to appear for a pending criminal case in Sezon’s court when the shooting occurred. Sezon noted Thursday that Shepard’s criminal history began in his 20s and he had been a methamphetamine user for several years.
On Dec. 18, 2017, sheriff’s deputies found Shepard, a convicted felon, hiding in a home in Pierpont Township where he was arrested and guns were confiscated. One of the guns seized was analyzed and it matched the shotgun shell found by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources at the shooting scene.
Shepard, who cried during the sentencing, offered a brief apology to Gozzard’s family. Garrett, who sought a sentence of six years, told the court Shepard’s conduct was less serious than behavior normally constituting the offenses and that he was unlikely to commit future crimes.
As a boy, Shepard would spend hours in the same woods where the shooting occurred to escape an abusive, alcoholic father who beat him with a belt, Garret said. His family was poor and survived off the land, Garret wrote in a court filing, chopping wood for heat and hunting for food.
Shepard once ran a successful construction business and provided for his family and daughters, Garret wrote, but when his relationship ended five years ago he began abusing alcohol and soon drugs.
Shepard was arraigned on his first felony offense in October 2017, Garrett wrote, seventeen years since he had been convicted of any crimes. Shepard missed a November court hearing because he mistook the date, and he feared going to jail in the winter because his elderly parents relied on him to chop wood and hunt and fish for food. Shepard decided to chop enough wood to sustain his parents through the winter, Garrett wrote, and to go out on opening day of hunting season to make sure his parents had meat for the winter.
Garret said Gozzard and the others he was with were drinking and Gozzard was quietly walking through the woods to move deer out of hiding spots toward his hunting party — a claim the Gozzard family strongly rejects.
“Darrell did not know Mr. Gozzard was standing behind the thick brush when he shot at a deer,” Garrett wrote. “He did not hear Mr. Gozzard because he was walking so quietly through the woods. When Darrell saw Mr. Gozzard he should have gone down to see if he could help him and notified the proper authorities. However, Darrell felt shock when he saw Mr. Gozzard.”
Instead Shepard left the area, at the time unsure if he was the one who fired the fatal shot and knowing he had a warrant for his arrest and might be blamed for the shooting, Garrett wrote. Shepard ultimately acknowledged his guilt, Garret wrote.
“Not a day goes by that Darrell does not feel the most sincere remorse for causing Mr. Gozzard’s death,” Garrett wrote. “He wishes more than anything he could go back and not have gone out hunting that day. He has nightmares and is truly tormented by his actions.”
Assistant County Prosecutor Cecilia Cooper said Shepard showed who he really is that day through his actions, and he chose not to do anything but leave after he fatally shot Gozzard.
“The day that Mr. Gozzard died this defendant showed no remorse,” she said. “He went out and saw Mr. Gozzard had been shot and he walked away and left him there. He didn’t report it to anyone then or later. He waited for ODNR to find him before he said anything. Had he been truly remorseful he would have reported it at the time, explained how it was an accident and asked for understanding at that point.”
Gozzard’s friend of more than 40 years Bill Reed, who found Gozzard that day, said he is tormented by what happened. Reed, who spoke after the sentencing, said anything Shepard could have done wrong that day he did — from missing a court date, to having an arrest warrant, hunting on private property and leaving a man he shot.
“I was the last person to see him and the first person to find him dead,” Reed said. “At that time I thought maybe he had a heart attack and then I saw that he was shot. After that my life was a ramble for months, and I still am having problems because of finding him dead.”