Condemned by prosecutors as reckless, cowardly, and contemptuous of the law, Montgomery County lawyer David Manilla was jailed Friday with bail set at $2 million after being charged in the shooting death of a Bucks County deer hunter.
Manilla, 49, of Worcester, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, felony firearms violations, and a slew of lesser counts in the Nov. 29 death of Barry Groh, 52, of Quakertown.
He was arrested after admitting to authorities Thursday that he accidentally shot Groh with a high-powered rifle in Richland Township, Bucks County. Manilla said he thought he had shot at a deer.
"We believe the evidence will show that he acted with inexcusable recklessness when he did so," District Attorney David W. Heckler said.
Although Groh is believed to have died within less than a minute, Manilla and two fellow hunters - including his uncle, former Montgomery County District Attorney Michael D. Marino - let at least 30 minutes pass before he called 911.
Manilla also tried to cover up the shooting, Heckler said, by hiding his gun and possibly plugging its barrel with mud to prevent an exact ballistics match with the fatal bullet. Heckler called Manilla's actions "a cowardly effort to evade and escape responsibility" for his crimes.
Defense attorney J. David Farrell contended that Manilla had cooperated by making himself available for police interviews and eventually surrendering the rifle he used. Farrell described Manilla as "extremely remorseful" about Groh's death.
"This has been a tragedy for the Groh family for three weeks; it is now a tragedy for the Manilla family," Farrell said. He called the shooting "a hunting accident, something that unfortunately happens in the sport. Obviously, there are factors in this particular case that make it of a bit more interest to the media."
Court records paint an unflattering picture of the three-man hunting party of Manilla, Marino, and Robert Monestero.
A probable-cause affidavit says that the men did not immediately call 911 and that when police arrived, they did not say Groh had been shot even after an emergency responder wondered aloud whether Groh had suffered a heart attack. The three left the scene before police had a chance to question them in detail.
Neither Marino nor Monestero was charged.
Although Marino was not forthcoming at first, Heckler said, he ultimately provided information that helped solve the case.
"Was it a painful process?" Heckler asked. "Did it happen bit by bit? Would it seem to have been more appropriate that he be immediately forthcoming? You betcha."
An autopsy determined that Groh died almost instantly after the bullet Manilla fired passed through his arm and into his heart as he stood in a wooded creekbed bordering Manilla's property. Groh had shot a buck and dragged it to the creek, where he waited for his son to arrive and help him carry it out.
At the time he was killed, Groh had removed his bright-orange hunting vest, but investigators believe he was still wearing his orange hunting cap.
The fatal shot was fired from a cornfield 88 yards away, Heckler said.
Involuntary manslaughter is a first-degree misdemeanor carrying a 15- to 21-month standard sentence, in Manilla's case, he said.
More serious are charges that Manilla had two rifles and a shotgun with him. Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon - which Manilla is, having pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in 1985 - is a second-degree felony.
The standard punishment for Manilla on each of those three charges would be at least four years, Heckler said.
Manilla was convicted in 1994 of carelessly shooting at another hunter in Schuylkill County.
By owning guns and hunting with them over the years, Manilla has "knowingly thumbed his nose at the law," Chief Deputy District Attorney Robert James told District Judge C. Robert Roth during the arraignment Friday.
Manilla told police he knew it was illegal to hunt with a rifle in Bucks County.
Marino admitted he knew it was illegal for Manilla to have a gun, the affidavit said. He said he "had not been fully forthcoming with investigators" at first "out of concern for his nephew," it said.
Marino told detectives that he, Manilla, and Monestero were riding an ATV across a cornfield "when Manilla announced that he saw a deer and almost immediately fired a shot," the affidavit said. Neither Monestero nor Marino said they saw a deer.
According to James, the shot was fired about noon. After Manilla walked to the creek and yelled, "Man down," the other two men came and saw Groh lying on his back.
"Uncle Mike, did I shoot that guy?" Marino recalled Manilla's asking him.
The men found no sign of life, Heckler said. But it was not until 12:39 p.m. that Manilla called 911 to report a hunting accident. Police arrived seven minutes later.
Roth said a preliminary hearing on the charges would be scheduled for Jan. 31.