Shooter mistakes mohawk for fowl, runs afoul of the law

Derrill Rockwell told police he grabbed his rifle, the .22-caliber he kept handy to kill rodents around the house, about 5 a.m. Oct. 5 and walked outside to confront it.

The bird.

Possibly, he told police, the same fowl he suspected of harassing his cats recently around his home near Orchard Mesa Cemetery.

It was red, sitting at the top of a hill about 90 feet away from Rockwell.

“His intent was to spook it away,” Deputy District Attorney Jason Conley told District Judge Richard Gurley on Friday.

Rockwell shot once but said he didn’t see the bird fly away. Soon after, he heard a woman’s voice, moaning in pain. Rockwell discovered a 23-year-old woman, with a large red mohawk, with a gunshot wound to the head.

“In 15 years in law enforcement, this was one of the more interesting cases I’ve worked,” Grand Junction Police Department detective Sean Crocker told the judge Friday.

Rockwell, 49, was sentenced to serve five years probation after pleading guilty to felony possession of a weapon by a prior offender.

The District Attorney’s Office dismissed remaining charges, including tampering with evidence, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and false reporting. He was ordered to pay more than $10,000 in restitution.

Rockwell initially misled the investigation, authorities said. Conley told the judge that Rockwell offered a wet towel for the woman’s head injury and drove her to the emergency room at St. Mary’s Hospital after the shooting, leaving his name and phone number with doctors.

“She got out of the truck on her own accord,” Conley told the judge.

Rockwell told a nurse he heard noises outside his home, went outside and found a woman bleeding from the head. Conley said Rockwell later explained he went home, gathered the rifle and drove to the Redlands Roller Dam, where he tossed the weapon into the Colorado River.

Six days after the shooting, Rockwell told another story to police detectives, acknowledging he fired the weapon after confusing the woman’s red mohawk hairstyle for a distant bird.

Stephan Schweissing, Rockwell’s attorney, said Rockwell’s interview with police Oct. 11 went against his advice to his client. Had Rockwell not voluntarily spoken with detectives, he likely wouldn’t have been charged by the District Attorney’s Office in the matter, Schweissing said.

“He just couldn’t live with himself, knowing what he knew,” the attorney said.

Police detectives had few clues in the investigation, which early on had centered around the victim’s possible transient lifestyle at the time and her associates, Crocker told the judge.

“(Rockwell) gave a full, detailed confession,” the detective told the judge.

Crocker said police conducted a comprehensive investigation into Rockwell’s account, searching his property while returning there to re-enact the shooting scenario Rockwell had described. The woman was believed to be in a crouched position at the top of the hill — with her red mohawk exposed roughly 90 feet away — when she was shot, according to testimony Friday.

Conley told the judge the woman may have been passed out from intoxication prior to being shot, and officers found a small bag of suspected methamphetamine in the area where she was found.

The District Attorney’s Office ultimately found nothing to dispute Rockwell’s account, Conley told the judge.

Rockwell had been prohibited from owning a firearm after a 1995 conviction for attempted burglary.

“This was a tragic accident, and I’m truly sorry,” he told the judge.

Rockwell’s victim didn’t attend Friday’s hearing. Conley said she left Colorado after the shooting and couldn’t be contacted before Friday.

Attempts by The Daily Sentinel to contact her Friday were unsuccessful.



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