Tragic Accident or Murder? Special Jury to Decide in Montana

 In firearms, opinion

A Montana teen was sleeping last May when his friend knocked on his window at 2:30 in the morning. The knocking teen died after being shot in the head by his startled awake friend.

Seth Culver, 17, and Mackeon ‘Mackey’ Schulte, 15, were friends and students at Billings Senior High School in Billings, Montana. Culver and Schulte had been friends since they met their freshman year.

Startled by the noises at his window, Culver grabbed a handgun, a World War II-era, .38-caliber pistol.  According to authorities, Culver fired a single shot through the window, striking his friend in the head, killing Schulte.


Police at the scene of the shooting- photo by Larry Maher- the Billings Gazette

Accident or Murder?

Len Culver, 60, had given the .38 caliber pistol to his son. Seth Culver has been familiar with firearms for much of his life. Enrolled in hunter safety course when he was 13, Culver regularly instructs his son and promotes responsible firearm control and ownership.

Culver said he did not know is was against federal law to allow a minor to own a handgun. Regina and Len Culver do not believe criminal charges are appropriate.   Saying the entire event was a tragic accident they believe criminal charges would only compound a tragedy that has already left Seth despondent over his friend’s death.

Len Culver said,

“I don’t want them to make some BS, liberal deal out of this. He did it. Yes, he did it. But let’s treat it like what it is. It isn’t going to happen again. Mack’s gone.”

Regina Culver saved a text from Mackey’s father, Sean-Paul Schulte directed to her son Seth. A portion of the message reads,

“Don’t throw your life away. … Mackey loved you. … be strong as u can, study and do pushups.”

Coroner’s Jury

Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito told reporters he will convene a ‘Coroner’s Jury’ next month. It is an unusual and rarely used proceeding, but Twito feels it is necessary, saying.

“The ages, circumstances, timing, relationships of the people — all of those things. I think it was an appropriate case to look at in this way.”

The facts will be presented and it will be up to the jury to decide if criminal charges are warranted. However, the jury’s decision is only a recommendation. The final decision to file criminal charges or not is up to Twito’s office.

Responsibility = Accountability

Twito’s office is not pursuing charges against Culver’s parents even though there are questions about the 17-year-old shooter’s ready access to a loaded handgun. Federal authorities are investigating and will determine if charges are appropriate.

Twito said he is, “going to let the process unfold.” 

Second Amendment

The American constitutional right to own and possess firearms is unique across the globe. But rights come with responsibility. As he lay dying, Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben uttered his last warning to Peter AKA Spiderman,

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

In the right hands, firearms have great power. For hunting, sporting and protection, firearms can be wonderful tools, and occasionally lifesaving.

In the wrong hands, they can wield death and destruction as we’ve seen at Sandy Hook, Charleston, SC and Aurora, CO. But attached to that power is tremendous responsibility.

There’s a reason federal law prohibits minors from drinking, or buying cigarettes, and certainly owning handguns. The Culver’s assertion they did not know it was against the law for their 17 year old son to possess a handgun is not an excuse.

For giving their son a loaded handgun, the Culver’s are certainly culpable in Schulte’s death. In hindsight, there can be little doubt they exercised poor judgment, and will forever second guess their decision.

Prosecuting Seth Culver for his action will not benefit society nor make society safer.

If the Culver’s had allowed minors to drink in their home, and a drunk teenager killed another motorist driving home, homicide charges would surely be brought against the Culvers. Shouldn’t the same accountability for negligent behavior apply to firearm ownership?

Prosecuting Regina and Len Culver would send a message to parents there are consequences to their actions.

“With firearm ownership comes great power and great responsibility.”

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