- Written by Matthew Ward
Holdout juror forces prosecutor to refile case; August retrial set
A mistrial was declared in a negligent homicide case heard by a Millard County jury last month.
The 4th District Court trial ended after a six-person jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict in the Class A misdemeanor case against Adam McDermaid, who was charged in the Nov. 17, 2017 accidental shooting death of Tygh Backer.
One juror voted not guilty, while five others voted to convict.
Backer died after suffering a shotgun blast to his upper body during a goose hunting excursion with four friends near Delta.
According to the facts laid out by the trial, McDermaid at first hadn’t even realized he’d shot Backer. His defense attorney, John Easton, argued heavy winds on the day of the hunt interfered with his client’s ability to shoot at a flock of geese coming toward the hunters. A flap covering the single-man blind McDermaid was in somehow failed to open, the lawyer argued, contributing to the accident.
During opening arguments in the case, Easton urged jurors to understand that accidents happen and sometimes there are serious consequences, but don’t necessarily rise to the level of criminal behavior.
“We are all familiar with accidents…some accidents have true, true consequences. But it doesn’t make it criminal,” he told jurors.
County prosecutor Pat Finlinson told jurors the prosecution and the defense actually agreed on most facts in the case, saying, “This case is interesting. It’s probably a little bit unique in that there’s really no dispute. There’s not going to be really any disagreement about what happened.”
Finlinson, however, argued McDermaid was criminally negligent because as an avid hunter he had a reasonable expectation of acting with extreme caution in handling a firearm.
“What we have to show is that Adam should have been aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist, or in this case that the result would occur,” the prosecutor reminded jurors at the end of the trial, during closing arguments. “We have to show that Adam should have been aware that what he was doing could result in injury or in this case in death.”
A number of witnesses were called during the proceeding, including sheriff’s deputies, the other hunters in Backer’s party and an expert witness who testified about firearm safety.
Easton made a point to inquire of all the hunters who testified whether McDermaid exhibited any alarming behavior before or during the hunt. He also asked whether drugs or alcohol appeared to play any role that day. All testified they witnessed no alarming behavior or any suspected drug or alcohol consumption or influence.
Deputies who responded to the scene that day also testified that McDermaid and the other hunters were cooperative during the investigation, though initially McDermaid denied firing his shotgun during the fatal incident.
“It really could have only come from Adam’s gun. I think at some point Adam recognized, acknowledged it had to have come from my gun, but maintained he didn’t remember firing his gun,” Finlinson told jurors in his opening argument. “And that he didn’t remember even having his gun up there and he didn’t know how it could’ve happened.”
Shotgun pellets taken from Backer’s body by a medical examiner only matched the ammunition used by McDermaid that day, Finlinson said.
When Backer screamed out after being struck by the shotgun blast, the hunters with him at first thought he was having a medical episode, a heart attack or something similar. When blood was discovered from a wound near Backer’s chest, the hunters then thought perhaps it was a self-inflicted wound. They called 911 and then raced Backer toward Delta to meet an ambulance dispatched to their location. When Backer was placed inside the ambulance, EMTs alerted dispatchers to have a medical helicopter en route.
Backer died during the flight north for treatment.
Backer was an avid hunter. He also trained hunting dogs, a passion of his. Backer had only known McDermaid a few months, according to testimony.
It wasn’t until February 2018 that prosecutors decided to file a negligent homicide charge against McDermaid. A jury trial was scheduled earlier this year but postponed.
A new trial in the case is scheduled to take place on Aug. 29.