Emotions run high during hunting death case.

September 10, 2018

William Gort, Sr. addresses the defendant. Roger Hoeker. Also pictured is Oceana County sheriff’s deputy Dave Gregwer.

Emotions run high during hunting death case.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.


HART – Emotions ran high Monday morning, Sept. 10, in 27th Circuit Court during the sentencing of a 63-year-old Jenison man serving as a youth mentor and hunting safety instructor, who carelessly discharged his gun killing a 13-year-old Wyoming, Michigan boy.

Roger Erick Hoeker shot William “Billy” Gort, Jr. in the head after discharging his .22 caliber rifle while squirrel hunting on state land in Greenwood Township near Hesperia Feb. 18, 2017.

Defendant Roger Hoeker, right, and attorney Mark Hunting.

“You killed my boy,” said William Gort, Billy’s father, to Hoeker in an emotionally-charged statement in court. “I ain’t seen my son in two years and I guess you know how that’s going to go for the rest of my life.”

“You did me wrong,” the grieving father said to Hoeker. “You are a wrongdoer to everyone involved in this family – the people that will never know little Billy.”

“Roger, you’re a coward,” Gort said. You lied to your church how it happened. You should be ashamed you even pulled the trigger.”

“My grandson is dead – William Gort, Jr. is dead,” said Tom Ambrose II, Billy’s grandfather. “We trusted Roger Hoeker with our precious boy.”

“Roger Hoeker put a bullet in the back of Billy Gort’s head,” the grandfather said. “The bullet entered right in the back of his head and silenced Billy.”

Thomas Ambrose II, grandfather of Billy Gort, Jr., addresses the court.

Billy’s best friend, who was hunting with Hoeker and Gort, will be emotionally scarred for life because he was with Billy when he died, Ambrose said. “He watched him take his last breath.”

“He was a loyal protector of his family and friends,” the grandfather said. “Roger showed no remorse. Roger has not told anybody he’s sorry. All we hear are excuses.”

Billy’s great grandmother, Charlotte Ambrose, described Billy as a bright, energetic, loving boy. “His warm bear hugs will be missed by me forever,” she said. She recalled his “boundless energy” and the many activities in which he was involved, such as wrestling and playing the bass fiddle in the middle school orchestra.

“He dedicated 43 years of his life to volunteerism,” said Hoeker’s attorney, Mark Hunting. He described his client as “somebody who values human life.

“Unfortunately, an accident took place and we lost Billy Gort,”

Charlotte Ambrose, great-grandmother of Billy Gort, Jr., addresses the court.

Hunting said. “The pain, sorrow and remorse for what took place – it can’t be undone. It was not an intentional act.”

“He is sorry,” Hunting said as he turned to the family. “You may not believe it, but he is sorry.”

“There is nothing frankly I can say that is going to ease the pain of Billy Gort’s family,” Hunting said. “The loss of a child at such a young and tender age who was going to grow up to be a wonderful young man. No one can replace that.”

Hoeker entered a “no contest” plea, July 16, to a high-court misdemeanor of careless discharge of a firearm resulting in injury or death. A mistrial was declared last June in the case during a three-day jury trial.

Judge Robert D. Springstead sentenced Hoeker to 90 days in jail and one year probation Monday.

William Gort, Sr., holds a picture of Billy as he addresses the court.

The plea agreement called for a jail term not to exceed 90 days and 18 months of probation. Hoeker has no prior criminal record, said Judge Springstead. There is a “substantial civil settlement with the agency,” said Springstead previously.

Hoeker faced up to two years in prison for the charge. He was initially facing 15 years in prison for a felony of involuntary manslaughter, but his charge was reduced following a preliminary exam in 78th District Court last December.

Judge Springstead declared a mistrial last June after “testimony elicited that there was a report that neither the prosecution or the defense was aware of, and it could have affected the way either party prepared their case,” previously said Oceana County Prosecutor Joseph Bizon.

Hoeker was serving as a mentor with a youth outreach program called Christianity Outdoors, and he also was a Michigan hunter safety instructor, according to the Michigan State Police.

Gort was on a hunting trip with Hoeker and his best friend. “The teen hunters were hunting with shotguns, and Hoeker was hunting with a .22 caliber rifle. Orange hunter safety attire was reported to have been worn at the time of the shooting,” according to MSP.

The shooting occurred near East Cleveland Road and 192nd Avenue in Greenwood Township, according to MSP.

Billy, who was an avid hunter, was a student at Pinewood Middle School in the Kentwood school district.

This story is copyrighted © 2018, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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