DEATH-IN-WOODS CASE MOVES INTO COURTROOM MAN ACCUSED OF SHOOTING TEEN WHO WAS VIDEO TAPING IN THE WOODS.

2005-09-30T00:00:00Z DEATH-IN-WOODS CASE MOVES INTO COURTROOM MAN ACCUSED OF SHOOTING TEEN WHO WAS VIDEO TAPING IN THE WOODS.KATE SCHOTT La Crosse Tribune madison.com
September 30, 2005 12:00 am  • 

Russell Robert Schroeder III said nothing during the 10 minutes he sat in Judge Steven Abbott's courtroom earlier this week.

But Monroe County authorities said it was Schroeder's own words -- captured on video tape -- that led them to charge the 24-year-old with first-degree reckless homicide and first-degree reckless injury in the Saturday shooting death of La Crosse teenager Seth Hammes.

Hammes was unarmed and videotaping the woods near Little Falls, where his family and friends planned to bow hunt this season, when he was shot twice Saturday sometime between 4 and 4:30 p.m., according to the criminal complaint filed Tuesday.

The video camera continued recording as the 17-year-old Logan High School senior lay wounded in the woods, crying out in pain.

Schroeder, 24, who lives on adjacent land but was trespassing on private property when the shooting occurred, told authorities he saw movement and fired his .22-caliber rifle, then lost track of what he had seen and fired a second shot.

He thought he was shooting at an animal until he heard Hammes scream. Schroeder then went to the wounded teen and told him he had a cell phone and would call for help, according to the complaint.

But he never made that call, Monroe County District Attorney Dan Cary said. Instead, Schroeder went back to a birthday party he had attended earlier in the day, went home to play video games and then went to work at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, according to the complaint.

Schroeder told authorities he didn't call 911 because he was scared he would get in trouble, according to the complaint.

Family and friends of Hammes, including the friends who had gone to the woods with him Saturday, called authorities at 8:05 p.m. Saturday when they couldn't find him. With the help of search dogs, Monroe County Sheriff's Detective Jeff Sullivan said they found Hammes slumped against a tree between 9:30 and 10 p.m., with little visible bleeding.

When they viewed the video, Hammes was heard saying he had been shot in the side.

"It was pretty eerie," Sullivan said.

"It's pretty obvious he's in pain and he goes into shock pretty quickly," Cary added. "There is just a brief discussion with the defendant about getting help."

Medical examiner Toni Eddy-Ballman said preliminary autopsy results revealed one bullet entered Hammes' shoulder, clipped a lung and punctured an artery, leading to massive internal bleeding. The other bullet passed through Hammes' side, grazed his pelvis and perforated his bladder. She was not sure if immediate medical help would have saved Hammes but said assistance could have given him a chance.

Tears coursed down the cheeks of family and friends of Hammes who were in court Tuesday, and small gasps were heard as specifics of Saturday's shooting were presented.

Abbott set bond at $250,000. In asking for a high bond, Cary said Schroeder has only lived in the area a year and had no family, making him a flight risk.

Public defender Patricia O'Neil argued for a lower amount, pointing out Schroeder's fiance lives in the area, he has a job as a Fort McCoy custodian and has cooperated with authorities.

"What Mr. Cary has described is a tragic accident that has now been made into a crime," O'Neil said. "(Schroeder) shot at what he thought was a squirrel with a .22-caliber rifle, the appropriate gun for that animal. The fact that he hit a human being ... is tragic, but it's still an accident."

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