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Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Case of the Stray Bullet

     On Friday night, December 16, a 15-year-old Amish girl named Rachel Yoder, while on her way home in a horse-drawn buggy from a Christmas party at an Amish produce farm, fell dead out of the rig with a bullet in her head. She died not far from her central Ohio home in Wayne County. The girl's brother found her when he saw the horse walking around her body. The Summit County medical examiner, without the benefit of an investigation, ruled the death a homicide. This manner of death ruling triggered speculation the girl had been murdered at the behest of Bishop Sam Mullet, the cult like leader of the band of renegade Amish outlaws recently charged with a series of Ohio home invasion, hair-cutting felonies. (See: "Bishop Sam Mullet: Amish Outlaw," November 25, 2011.)

     A few days after Rachel Yoder's death, the local sheriff announced she had been killed by a stray bullet fired a mile and a half away by a young Amish man cleaning is muzzle-loading rifle. (A rifle loaded through the muzzle end of the barrel. I don't know if this gun was a modern replica or an antique.) The Amish girl's death, according to the gun cleaning theory, was simply a freak accident. The sheriff says he has not ruled out a negligent homicide charge. (Such a charge would be ridiculous. If the Amish man had been clearning his gun in Starbucks, that's one thing, but in Amish country?)

     You could drive around the most violent neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Miami, and Detroit twenty-four hours a day for twenty years, and never catch a stray bullet. Rachel Yoder had been riding in her buggy in the country, a bullet (I don't know the caliber) fired a mile and a half away not only found her, it killed her. For me, that's hard to believe. After traveling that far, a bullet, particularly one fired from a muzzle-loader, loses its velocity and the force to become deadly. This theory of Rachel Yoder's death is so farfetched, a writer who put such a scene into a mystery novel would be laughed out of the business. But, if a firearms identification expert matches the fatal bullet to the Amish man's rifle, then this is what happened.

     One of Rachel Yoder's Amish neighbors was quoted as follows: "We can't understand how it could happen, but I guess it was the Lord, maybe. Her time was up is what we think." I'll tell what I think--on second thought, I better not, other than to say I don't subscribe to that line of reasoning. In my view, if Rachel Yoder was not murdered, she died of extreme bad luck.


   On September 11, 2012, 28-year-old Marion Yoder pleaded guilty to negligent homicide. The Holmes County judge sentenced the Amish man to six months in the county jail, but suspended all but 30 days of the term.  Because I can't imagine a jury convicting this man of negligent homicide, I don't see the wisdom in the guilty plea. While the level of negligence in this case might support a civil wrongful death action, it does not rise, in my view, to criminal recklessness. Putting a man in jail for a freak accident is not my idea of criminal justice. 

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