Thirty-one year old Shawn Stewart, his wife, and newborn son lived in Lewis County, West Virginia. Shawn was an avid hunter and tournament winning bass fisherman. He had just built a log home for his wonderful new family. Shawn went spring gobbler hunting in 2009 near Stonewall Jackson Lake but never made it out of the woods alive. When no one could reach him, hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement officers searched the woods for him. A day later, he was found dead laying against a tree with a shotgun blast to his head.
His killer was a fellow hunter who had hastily fled the scene and told no one of the shooting. The only bit of evidence was a hat laying near the lakeshore and some witnesses who saw a truck nearby with Pennsylvania license plates and a wooden canoe rack. Law enforcement began an intense investigation chasing leads in many different areas. The West Virginia State Police and Division of Natural Resources Police worked tirelessly on the case.
That dropped hat proved the undoing for 58-year old Robert Tobias of Pennsylvania. Tobias had been turkey hunting in the same area, and used a silver canoe to cross the lake to hunt the area where Shawn was hunting. Tobias had purchased that hat at a nearby sporting goods store. Video surveillance and credit card information led law enforcement to Tobias in Pennsylvania. Tobias later admitted he had panicked and fled the scene after shooting Shawn Stewart, mistaking him for a turkey.
Unfortunately, these facts were eerily similar to the case I prosecuted in Kanawha County the year before. Following that case, the Lewis County Prosecutor asked me to assist with his new hunting death case. After indictment, Tobias eventually pled guilty to felony wanton endangerment, negligent shooting causing death and failure to render aid.
In a bizarre effort of atonement, Tobias offered to teach hunting safety classes and to give canoe rides in Pennsylvania to Stewart’s family. With a scathing rebuke, Judge Thomas Keadle (originally from Greenbrier County) sentenced Tobias to five (5) years. I have never seen a courtroom so packed in my entire career. It was standing room only and people literally lined the walls for this gut-wrenching case. When Shawn Stewart’s widow testified regarding her and her son’s loss, I doubt there was a dry eye in the courtroom.
Just as with the St. Albans case, I knew it was important that Tobias not hunt again. However, even after killing Shawn Stewart, Tobias hunted again. I found this very troubling and contacted the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and their Pennsylvania counterparts to revoke Tobias’ hunting license.
During that inquiry I informed the chief of the Pennsylvania DNR that West Virginia was part of the Interstate Wildlife Compact Act (because it was actually in our state code) and that he should be revoked in Pennsylvania just as in West Virginia. This compact, in a similar fashion to drivers’ licenses, would revoke hunting/fishing licenses in all compact member states of offenders who were revoked in one compact member state.
The Pennsylvania DNR chief told me that West Virginia clearly was not part of the compact despite what was in our code. After further research, I learned that then-Governor Bob Wise had failed to officially sign the legislation and it sat in limbo. At my request, then-Governor Joe Manchin signed the compact legislation and West Virginia officially became a member state of the Interstate Wildlife Compact Act.