Man gets 15-year prison sentence in Russian roulette shooting

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Jonah Beleckis | September 15, 2017

ELKHORN—Robert Sterling says he can't stop shaking.

He shakes ever since he shot and killed his best friend, David Bauspies, during a Jan. 2 game of drunken Russian roulette.

He cries at night. He has panic attacks.

He prays for his friend, he told those assembled in Walworth County Court on Friday.

Sterling's shaking was visible during Friday's sentencing hearing, when Walworth County Judge Kristine Drettwan sentenced him to 15 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision.

Sterling pleaded guilty in July to a single count of first-degree reckless homicide by use of a dangerous weapon.

David's brother, Chad, also couldn't stop shaking when he addressed the court.

He apologized for that and for talking too fast. He said speaking in front of everyone was harder than he thought it would be.

Chad explained that he has nightmares and is nervous about his parents dying. After his parents die, he'll be alone and without his brother, he said.

“Our lives are ruined,” Chad said before turning to Sterling. “Why did you kill my brother?”

Most people who spoke in court Friday said they believed the shooting was unintentional.

Sterling, now 32, Bauspies, who was 36, and a third man were helping Tyler Odell move in East Troy on Jan. 2.

They had been drinking before Odell brought out his .44 Magnum revolver, put one round in the chamber and pointed the gun at his head, according to the criminal complaint. He told police he did not pull the trigger.

Sterling took the gun, held the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger, but it did not fire, according to the complaint.

The prosecution and Sterling differ on what exactly happened next.

Walworth County District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld said forensic evidence shows Sterling held the gun close to Bauspies' face, which is where he was shot.

Sterling has said the gun was at his waist when it went off. He said he did not think there was a bullet in the gun and the shooting was completely unintentional.

Drettwan said she believed Sterling did not know about the bullet and that he did not mean to kill his best friend.

David's mother, Joanna, said Sterling and her son loved each other. She said she loves them both.

“I forgive you,” she said, looking at Sterling.

David's father, also named David, said he thought the shooting was intentional. He called Sterling a “killer” and said Sterling should have known better because this wasn't the first time he had shot someone with a gun.

When Sterling was 12 years old—when he started using drugs and alcohol and fell in with the wrong crowd—he participated in an armed robbery. As they were leaving, Sterling shot a bullet through the glass door and hit someone, Wiedenfeld said.

Sterling's attorney, Julia May, pointed out the difference between the two shootings.

When he was a kid, Sterling ran away.

This time, he stayed.

Sterling called 911, tried to perform CPR and cooperated with police. The other two people left, despite Sterling imploring them to stay, May said.

Odell, who is charged with party to first-degree reckless homicide, is scheduled for a November jury trial and a final pretrial at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 13.

Some members of the Bauspies family asked for the maximum prison sentence: 65 years. Wiedenfeld asked for 15 to 20 years, and May recommended six to 10 years.

Sterling's mother, Simona Napierkowski, spoke while standing next to the Bauspies family. She said she can't imagine their pain and called the shooting “horrific.”

Yet she said she remembers cooking for her son, whom everyone called Bobby, and David Bauspies.

Before starting his closing argument, Wiedenfeld showed a photo of David on a projector.

The Bauspies family had given the photo to Wiedenfeld the first time they met. They wanted him to see David as they remembered him, not just as a shooting victim.

When the photo was shown, family members started to cry.

When Sterling spoke at the hearing, he apologized for the shooting and said he hopes David's family can forgive him. He said David was a person people wanted to be with, and the two bonded over golfing and fishing.

But no sentence will bring David back. May said Sterling will continue to live with the guilt.

Sterling suffers from post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression, she said.

“Our prison isn't built for rehabilitation,” May said.

And Sterling can't stop the shaking.

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