Norman Clinton Hale, 42, of McDonough, Ga., entered a guilty plea Friday in Macon to killing a federal officer (involuntary manslaughter), discharging a firearm in a developed recreation site, and hindering communication to a law enforcement officer.
Hale faces a maximum sentence of eight years’ imprisonment for the offense of involuntary manslaughter and a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment for hindering communication to a law enforcement officer. Discharging a firearm in a developed recreation site is a misdemeanor offense.
Sentencing will be scheduled by the court in mid-March, 2012.
On March 5, 2010, United States Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Christopher Upton was at the Ocmulgee Bluff Equestrian Trailhead in the Oconee National Forest, Jasper County, Ga. Officer Upton was on Forest Service property conducting surveillance to determine if individuals were violating the law or damaging Forest Service property or land.
Sometime after 9:45 p.m. on March 5, 2010, Norman Clinton Hale and others arrived at the Ocmulgee Bluff Equestrian Trailhead for the purpose of coyote hunting. Hale was armed with a Remington 700 bolt action .223 caliber rifle which was fitted with a night vision scope. Hale climbed into the bed of his pickup truck and started hunting in Trailhead, which is a developed recreation site.
During the hunt, Hale claimed he saw “bright eyes” and fired his rifle. After firing his rifle, Hale instructed another person to go out to the location toward which he, Hale, had fired. This person observed that a human being, later identified as Officer Upton, had been shot by Hale. Despite being in possession of cellphones, no one at the scene immediately called 911 or rendered any aid to Officer Upton.
After over an hour had passed, 911 was finally called. By the time emergency services arrived at the scene, Officer Upton was dead.
Hale and others were interviewed by law enforcement officers. At the scene and in a later interview, Hale failed to communicate to law enforcement officers that other witnesses were present at the time of the shooting who might incriminate him.
United States Attorney Michael J. Moore stated, “This case is uniquely tragic. It is inconceivable that Forest Service Officer Chris Upton was left to die, without any aid or comfort being offered by Mr. Hale. We are talking about a human being, a husband, a son and father. The failure to immediately call for help or render aid in these circumstances is inexcusable.”
The case was investigated by the United States Forest Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Jasper County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia State Patrol and supported by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).