By Brad Hicks / Staff Writer

A Knox County man was sentenced in United States District Court in London Monday to 15 years in prison for possessing a firearm in the 2007 accident that killed his hunting partner.

Jimmy Ray McDonald, 48, of Gray, was arrested in October 2007 and charged with possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. The charges stem from an incident that occurred on Oct. 14, 2007 in which McDonald shot the man with whom he was hunting.

According to an affidavit signed by Thomas Chittum III, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy Roy Gambrel arrived at the scene in the Bailey Hollow area of Knox County. There, he found McDonald and Michael Myrick, the victim’s father and McDonald’s best friend, trying to provide aid to 20-year-old Brian Myrick, who had suffered a gunshot to the side. Myrick was transported to the hospital and later died as a result of the gunshot.

Also according to the affidavit, McDonald told authorities in a post-Miranda statement that he had accidentally shot Myrick with a .22-caliber rifle after mistaking him for a squirrel. McDonald said after he shot what he believed to be a squirrel, he heard Myrick yell that he had been shot, and McDonald went to seek help. Police determined the shooting was accidental.

In October 2007, McDonald was indicted on one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and one count of forfeiture of the firearm which was in his possession at the time of the hunting accident. In January, McDonald pleaded guilty to both counts on the indictment.

According to court records, McDonald was convicted in 1981 for theft by unlawful taking over $100 and convicted in 1982 for second-degree escape and third-degree burglary. He was also convicted in 1983 of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and in 2000 was convicted for driving a motor vehicle while his license was revoked or suspended for driving under the influence, the affidavit stated.

At Monday’s sentencing hearing, McDonald’s attorney, Douglas Benge, said McDonald has exhibited genuine sympathy for what occurred.

“Since I’ve met him in jail, he has cried virtually every single time with the exception of the last couple of times,” Benge said.

Benge also mentioned McDonald’s poor upbringing in a remote area of Knox County before asking for the minimum 180-month (or 15-year) sentence. Benge said McDonald was forced to leave school at an early age, is illiterate, had been living on less than $600 a month and had been diagnosed as being mildly retarded.

“I just look at that and say ‘my God, he is in podunk Kentucky ... he has no way out,’” Benge said.

An emotional McDonald also addressed the court, saying he did not mistake Myrick for a squirrel, but rather fired at a squirrel and struck McDonald, whom he did not see. He also said he was hesitant to go hunting to start with.

“If I could have died to save the boy, I would,” McDonald said. “The boy was more than just a friend. He was my nephew. If I could change everything, this would have never happened. I would have never went hunting. I just wish I could change things.”

Assistant United States Attorney Samuel Dotson said that while the outcome of the hunting incident was tragic, it could have been avoided if McDonald had followed the law.

“However, the fact remains he possessed a firearm when he wasn’t supposed to,” Dotson said.

Benge objected to McDonald being sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act, which would enhance his sentence due to prior convictions for “violent felonies,” referring his 1981 and 1982 convictions.

Benge argued that these previous convictions should not be considered violent felonies because the burglary conviction pertained to McDonald stealing tools from an unoccupied outbuilding. As for the escape conviction, Benge said McDonald threatened no one when he walked through an unlocked door while previously incarcerated.

“My understanding is this gentleman was a trustee and had certain privileges other inmates did not,” Benge said.

United States District Judge Danny C. Reeves overruled these two objections, saying that with such crimes, the possibility for violence exists.

“There’s an inherent serious risk to law enforcement and the community as far as escape,” Reeves said.

However, Benge’s objection that the firearm was not possessed in commission with any other criminal act was sustained. Benge said McDonald had never been indicted on charges of reckless homicide.

“I haven’t satisfied myself that that gives rise to criminal culpability,” Reeves said. “Without more, I just have a hard time making a conclusion here.”

Before Reeves handed down a 180-month sentence, followed by a five-year supervised release, he emphasized to McDonald that he was being sentenced for possessing a gun while not being legally allowed to do so, not because of the death of Myrick. McDonald was also ordered to forfeit the firearm he was in possession of at the time of the shooting. Reeves did take into account what he called a “significant” criminal history.

“This is a tragic case, there’s no doubt about that,” Reeves said. “The facts of this case are unfortunate. It’s a tragic accident, but it’s one that didn’t need to occur. While tragic, it could have been avoided if you had not possessed the weapon.”

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