The Killing of Karen Wood | Yankee Classic
The day following the shooting, Tim stayed and watched the wardens mark the spots — where Karen lay when she died, where Rogerson stood when he took aim and fired — and measure the distances. He watched them and remembered, for that has been their only access to the facts that surround Karen’s death, a situation that remains one of the most troublesome aspects of this painful experience. The rest he and Kevin have pieced together for themselves.
They have stood on the spots where the hunter stood and where Karen lay, time and again, and seen his line of fire, which they say was a clear shot across an opening recently logged. They have gone back out there at that same time of day and seen that the sun was at Rogerson’s back, that it shone brightly off the white house next door, and off the chain-link dog fence so near to Karen.
Perhaps worst of all, they know that Rogerson’s truck was parked only a short distance from the Woods’ house, so that for him to say that he didn’t know he was near any houses shows that he was disoriented. Kevin and Tim believe he was less than 300 feet, the legal limit, from the neighbor’s house. They believe he was hunting illegally.
A curtain of silence surrounds this case. The wardens won’t talk, the hunter won’t talk, and in accordance with state law, the attorney general won’t talk. They will not release the photographs they took. They will not say if any tests for drugs or alcohol were done on Rogerson. They will not say if there was any evidence of deer found nearby. They will not confirm the kind of gun Rogerson was using. They will not say whether or not Rogerson was hunting legally. They will not say what Karen was wearing when she died.
Until recently, Hjelm wouldn’t even confirm that the grand jury met and refused to return an indictment. Because the case is still open, there is still a possibility of a trial and release of any information may jeopardize a fair trial.
“It’s frustrating,” Hjelm says of his need to remain tight-lipped. “It’s very frustrating, but we can’t be shortsighted about it.” It is even more frustrating for Kevin, who was denied access to any of the evidence compiled by the wardens when he brought a wrongful death suit against Rogerson.
In fact, so few details were released following the investigation that Kevin forced himself to read the autopsy, a gruesome description of the violent extent of her injuries. The autopsy was one of the few things he was allowed to see. “I hated the fact that other people knew something about Karen that I didn’t,” he says.
Everyone knows who killed Karen Wood. That has never been a question. The question seems to be whose fault was it that she died. The fact that Rogerson was released and suffered no legal penalty for her death, not even the revocation of his hunting license, seems to reinforce the idea that somehow Karen was at fault. Kevin can’t abide that and neither can Tim.
“It feels totally unfinished to me, totally unfinished,” Tim Rogers said recently. “I think anyone who takes a high-powered rifle and points it and pulls a trigger and kills somebody has committed a crime.”
In February Tim was a panelist on a TV talk show to represent Kevin’s point of view about Karen’s death, a controversy that even then remained hot coffee-shop conversation. He was stung by the tone of many of those who called in, one referring to Karen’s “stupidity” in “presenting herself as a target.” Tim is from Georgia and has lived in Bangor only a few years, but he likes it and wants to stay. The attitudes that emerged during this charged-up time gave him pause. He rejects the notion that some of this might have been Karen’s fault because she didn’t know how Maine worked. “I don’t want to believe that because that means I don’t get the same protection under the law that Mainers get. I want to believe that my rights would be as well respected as the natives’.”
The idea that Karen may have been somehow to blame for her own death brings out the psychologist in him. He sees it as a classic case of blaming the victim. “No one wants to believe that a thing like that can happen to a woman who has everything going her way. I mean, if something like that can happen to someone with that much on the ball, what about the rest of us? It means that anything can happen. So we want her to be responsible so we can feel safe.”
Since Karen’s shooting, a bill was brought before the state legislature to increase the legal hunting distance from a dwelling to 200 yards. It died in committee. The Bangor city council enlarged the zone in which no firearm may be discharged except for protection of livestock. The neighboring town of Hampden passed an ordinance limiting the discharge of firearms within the town. The town of Hermon, as of August, was discussing such an ordinance.
And far from Maine Karen’s death made a difference. A close friend of Karen’s who lives in Clark County, Washington, made a tearful proposal, based on Karen’s death, for that county to increase the hunting distance from residences. The ordinance passed.
In the months following the shooting Kevin returned to Bangor only a few times, briefly, to check on the house, which was left frozen in time from that November afternoon, the wallpaper still only half hung in the kitchen.
He engaged a lawyer who brought suit against Rogerson for wrongful death, and in late May a settlement was reached: $122,000 went to Kevin and the babies from Donald Rogerson, much of the money coming from a liability clause in Rogerson’s homeowner’s insurance. Kevin called the settlement a “pittance,” but claims he needed to be realistic about it. “No amount of money could bring Karen back. The man has a limited net worth. You can’t get blood out of a stone.”
He also made the decision to move back to Iowa, where he and Karen had close friends. “I certainly had plenty of time to evaluate what living in Bangor would be like. I just decided there was no way, as difficult as it was to leave. Bangor represents the city of our dreams — the perfect house, the perfect job, the ideal family. Just too many dreams gone by. The dreams died with Karen.”