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27 months in dragging death

Tue., Sept. 23, 2008

Judge hands man maximum sentence in fatal hunting camp altercation

The man convicted in the dragging death of a college student will spend 27 months in prison.

Wendell C. Sinn Jr., 45, heard his sentence for second-degree manslaughter from Pend Oreille County Superior Court Judge Allen Nielson after a full day of testimony from his family, and family and friends of the victim, 20-year-old Jerid Sturman-Camyn.

Deputies arrested Sinn on Nov. 24 after witnesses said he’d placed a noose around Sturman-Camyn’s neck and attached it to the back of his Ford F-250 pickup after the man had threatened Sinn’s son and other campers with an ax. Sinn’s son took off in the truck at his father’s orders, dragging the Eastern Washington University student nearly 13 miles to his death.

Sinn’s lawyer, Carl Oreskovich, described his client as a “family man” with no criminal history and a perfect work record. He’d asked Nielson to impose a lesser sentence than the standard 21 to 27 months, citing Sinn’s claim of self-defense, among other factors.

Instead, Nielson imposed the harshest sentence allowed under state law.

Monday’s long and emotional hearing capped a bizarre story of a backwoods hunting camp that transformed into a terrifying crime scene over the course of a drunken night.

Sturman-Camyn and his father, Jerry “Scott” Camyn, were camping and drinking with Kelly F. Cuzzetto and his teenage son, Kurt Cuzzetto, near Ione, Wash., when the four of them visited a camp shared by Sinn, his son, Justin, and Kerry E. Torske and his son, Dillon.

Both groups were in the mountains hunting deer, and Kurt Cuzzetto and Justin Sinn reportedly knew each other, which prompted the get-together.

Witnesses told law enforcement that Sturman-Camyn quickly got out of control while wrestling with his father. Sinn fired a rifle to separate the two but Sturman-Camyn pulled the gun’s muzzle to his chest and challenged Sinn to shoot him, then threatened several campers with an ax, according to investigators.

Pend Oreille County Sheriff Jerry Weeks said after Sturman-Camyn’s death that tests showed Sinn had very little to drink and that Justin Sinn and the two other teens hadn’t had anything.

With county prosecutors considering a more serious charge of second-degree murder with aggravating factors, which could have carried a life sentence, Sinn entered an Alford plea to the second-degree manslaughter charge last week. That means he admits no guilt but acknowledges he could be found guilty if brought to trial.

Sturman-Camyn’s mother, Koni Buell, called Sinn a coward and said she doesn’t believe that Justin Sinn, who won’t be charged in the incident, didn’t know he was dragging her son as he drove his father’s pickup more than 13 miles on LeClerc Road. The teen called 911 while he was driving and said something was chasing him with an ax.

About the same time, Kurt Cuzzetto called 911 and said he was following a pickup that was dragging a person. Dispatchers realized the calls were the same. Justin Sinn had no idea what he had done and was “scared to death,” sheriff’s Sgt. Alan Botzheim previously told The Spokesman-Review.

Sturman-Camyn was a football player and wrestler at Klahowya Secondary School in Silverdale, Wash., and was adored by his family, Buell said. Members of the EWU chapter of Sigma Pi Epsilon, of which he was a member, held a vigil at the fraternity house after their friend’s death and recounted his outgoing personality and love for martial arts and combat sport fighting.

Buell said she and her son were “exceptionally close” and talked on the phone daily.

“Everybody who met Jerid liked him,” said Buell, an elementary school teacher in Silverdale. “He just lit up the room.”

The family visited him at EWU for his 20th birthday in May 2007, and Sturman-Camyn took his 8- and 10-year-old brothers fishing.

“He spent the morning helping them catch fish after fish,” Buell said. “He didn’t catch one himself, but he said it was one of the best trips he’d ever taken.”

Sinn is being held at the Pend Oreille County Jail while he awaits transfer to a state facility.

He was out on bail when he was taken into custody after last week’s plea hearing.


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