William Danley appeared in court Thursday on charges of killing his stepfather, whose shooting death was initially ruled an accident.
His family watched the court hearing tearfully, and later maintained that he is innocent in the death last December of Robert Harder, 66, in Chattaroy.
Danley, 34, is charged with second-degree murder. He remained in the Spokane County Jail late Thursday on $100,000 bond.
Sheriff’s officials initially ruled Harder’s death an accident, but this week issued an arrest warrant for Danley, who turned himself in to authorities Wednesday.
“He is not guilty,” said Diane Harder, Danley’s mother. “It was accidental.”
She was in the room Dec. 18 when her husband was shot.
She corroborated the version of the shooting that Danley told authorities.
Danley said Harder was sitting in a recliner when Danley returned from hunting with his rifle tucked under his arm.
Danley told deputies he started to put the rifle on a nearby table when it discharged. The bullet went through Harder’s left arm and lodged in his right side.
“The boys had gone hunting,” Diane Harder said. “He invited them in for a beer.”
Danley and two friends were laughing and talking with Harder when the shot was fired, she said.
Authorities have refused to disclose what evidence they have to bring the murder charge against Danley, and no evidence was presented at the hearing.
Sheriff’s Lt. David Wiyrick said some interviews after the shooting led authorities to believe it wasn’t an accident.
Diane Harder and three other family members watched the hearing on a television outside the courtroom.
Danley’s half-sister, 20-year-old Dawn Harder, said she also believes the shooting was accidental.
“I’ve known Bill since I was a kid and he would never do this to anyone,” she said.
Harder had worked for Burlington Northern for more than 40 years and was living his dream life on a farm during retirement when he died, a family friend said by phone Thursday.
“I was awfully close to Bob,” said John Messmer. “He was a heck of a guy.”
Messmer said he and others close to Robert Harder don’t really know how he died.
“We got four or five versions of what happened,” he said.