The hunter who shot dead 25-year-old Morgan Keane in his Lot garden in 2020 went on trial for involuntary homicide today (November 17) along with the director of the hunt in which he was participating.
A hearing took place in the court in Cahors (Lot), with the prosecution calling for prison time for the defendants.
Morgan Keane was chopping wood a few dozen metres away from his house in a hamlet near Calvignac on December 2, 2020, when he was hit in the chest by a stray bullet shot by a then 33-year-old hunter from Aveyron.
The hunter later went voluntarily to the gendarmerie to explain what had happened and said he had shot at Mr Keane thinking he was a wild boar. He was charged with involuntary homicide.
Mr Keane’s death provoked outrage across France, with a march organised in his honour and a group of his friends launching a petition – ‘Un jour, un chasseur’ – calling for stricter safety rules and two hunt-free days a week.
This petition gained the 100,000 signatures needed for a Senate debate on the issue, and 40 different audiences with organisations and individuals have been held over this year.
A report relating to these testimonies was published this month, with recommendations to improve training practices and more effectively prevent people from hunting while inebriated.
However, the Un jour, un chasseur group has criticised the report, saying that it dismisses almost all of the measures demanded in the original petition, even though they are “supported by an immense majority of people in rural settings”.
‘I thought it was the wild boar I’d missed a few minutes before’
The hunter who shot the fatal bullet said during his testimony that he had fired when he was around 80 metres from Mr Keane.
He stated that he had “hunted three or four times” after having obtained his permit and before the incident occurred, adding that he found the sport to be a “way of letting off steam, of exchanging ideas,” following the death of his daughter in a road accident.
“I saw a dark shape, not very tall. In my head, I thought it was the wild boar that I had missed a few minutes before.
“I waited for a few seconds, until it was still.”
The judge then asked him whether he had really “seen” this, or whether he had “imagined” it.
“I did not properly identify my target. It was my mistake, I regret it,” the defendant responded.
“There is not one day that passes without me thinking about it, it is ingrained [in my head] for life. I am sorry for my family,” he added.
The judge pointed out that on the afternoon in question, the weather conditions were not favourable and the light was failing because it was 16:30.
Prosecution calls for time in prison
The public prosecutor Alexandre Rossi said during the trial today that: “It is not hunting [as a sport] which is on trial,” but “two hunters who did not respect the rules”.
He added that there was an “absence of remorse” on the part of the hunt director: “He did absolutely nothing, he was a spectator and not a director.”
Mr Rossi called for a 24-month sentence – including six months in detention – for the hunter who shot the bullet, and 18 months – including six months in detention – for the director of the hunt.
He also stated that both should have their hunting permits taken from them. “Society will not understand if they are allowed to hunt again,” he said.
Finally, he said that they should also be banned from carrying a firearm for five years.
Mr Keane’s friend and co-founder of the Un jour, un chasseur movement, Léa Jaillard has told Franceinfo that she would also want to see both men banned from hunting for life.
Benoît Coussy, the lawyer representing Mr Keane’s brother Rowan – who was living with him at the time of the accident, both of their parents being deceased – spoke of the “immense trauma” the accident had caused.
“What was Morgan’s life worth if nothing changes?” he asked. “Can you imagine the pain of a bullet which perforates both lungs?” he added, turning to the defendants.
“This was a voluntary shot but we are talking about involuntary homicide, without knowing what the defendant was shooting at.
“What does this say about the morality of the group of hunters who were present? If they had intervened, Morgan would be alive.”
He also criticised the attitude of hunting parties, “which no longer have any limits and which go around everywhere.”
He called for €40,000 in compensation for Rowan Keane, and the lawyer representing Morgan Keane’s other loved ones – who are civil parties in the trial – asked for €4,000 for each of them.
A third lawyer, representing animal rights associations ASPAS and One Voice, asked for a symbolic euro.
‘Some don’t listen to instructions’
The judge stated that: “Not all hunters know the areas where hunting is authorised. Instructions are not repeated systematically and in specific terms.”
The director of the hunt said that “some don’t listen to instructions,” but was asked by the judge: “Why let them hunt?”
The director responded: “it’s tricky”.
His lawyer stated that testimonies reflect that “instructions were given” and “my client did not neglect his responsibilities”. She has therefore called for leniency with regards to his sentence.
The lawyer representing the hunter said that his client “hopes for a fair sentence, adapted to the context and to his character”.
Ms Jaillard told Franceinfo: “Of course, there is an individual responsibility – the hunter who fired the shot – but there is also the responsibility of the director of the hunt and his colleagues in the hunt, who were there and were responsible for the positioning and the development of that hunting party.”
In general, involuntary homicide is punishable by up to five years in prison and a €75,000 fine.
A ruling will be handed down by the judge on January 12, 2023.