Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Cook man pleads guilty in death of boy

Tom Klein
Posted 2/4/16

REGIONAL – A 59-year-old Cook man has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and hunting in a careless manner in the shooting death of a 14-year-old boy in Colorado.

Guy Pohto entered his plea last week …

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Cook man pleads guilty in death of boy

Posted

REGIONAL – A 59-year-old Cook man has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and hunting in a careless manner in the shooting death of a 14-year-old boy in Colorado.

Guy Pohto entered his plea last week in a Mesa County, Colo., courtroom, acknowledging he “recklessly caused” the death of Justin Burns, who was bow-hunting big game in the Grand Mesa region of western Colorado.

Following his plea, Pohto was handcuffed and taken into custody. Under Colorado law, Pohto must remain in jail until his April 6 sentencing hearing because he pled guilty to a crime involving a deadly weapon.

Prior to the Jan. 27 hearing, Pohto had been free on a promise to show up for his court dates.

The Cook man faces up to a maximum of six years in prison, followed by three years of parole, and up to $500,000 in fines. Manslaughter is considered a Class 4 felony while the charge of hunting recklessly is a misdemeanor.

According to Mesa County Chief Deputy District Attorney David Waite, Judge Valerie Robison has several sentencing options besides jail time for Pohto, including a period of probation or a stint in a community corrections facility, similar to a halfway house. If he were sentenced to probation, Pohto could serve that sentence in Minnesota, but if his sentence calls for time at a corrections facility, he would have to serve that time in Colorado.

A presentence investigation will be conducted, which will look at any prior convictions as well as references for Pohto. That information will be relayed to the judge and prosecutors.

Waite said prosecutors would make a recommendation on sentencing. “Our recommendation will be consistent with the family’s recommendation,” he added.

Pohto’s only apparent previous crime was a misdemeanor theft charge in Minnesota during the 1990s.

Pohto’s attorney Gordon Gallagher declined any comment.

Pohto and the 14-year-old Burns were both hunting big game in the Grand Mesa region on Sept. 13 when Pohto fired a shot that struck Burns in the chest. Burns died from the wound. Pohto, who runs a plumbing business in Cook, was licensed to be hunting big game with a muzzleloading rifle at the time. Burns was bow-hunting with his father.

At the plea hearing, more than 50 of Burns’ family members and friends, many wearing shirts with the Twitter hashtag #justiceforjustin, packed the courtroom, according to the Grand Junction Sentinel.

Burns’ parents, Cory and Karla, told the newspaper they plan to make a statement during the April 6 sentencing hearing.

They’ve also filed a civil suit against Pohto in federal court for causing their son’s wrongful death. The lawsuit seeks damages topping $75,000, citing their grief, loss of companionship, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.

“Defendant’s conduct in causing the death of the plaintiff’s son was so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, that a reasonable member of the community would regard the conduct as atrocious, going beyond all possible bounds of decency and utterly intolerable in a civilized community,” the lawsuit states.

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