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Suspected killer says fatal gunshot was accidental

Joseph Duane Herrera (Benewah County)
Joseph Duane Herrera (Benewah County)

A St. Maries, Idaho, man accused of murdering an 18-year-old woman told police he accidentally shot her in the face while checking to see if his gun was unloaded, officials say.

Joseph Duane Herrera, 28, is in jail on $200,000 bond after pleading not guilty to second-degree murder in Benewah County District Court.

He was arrested Sunday for the shooting death of Stefanie Comack.

Benewah County Prosecutor Douglas Payne said Tuesday that “there was some kind of argument” Sunday between the two and the gun was fired “in close proximity” to Comack’s head, which he said amounts to malice on Herrera’s part.

“You can have death which is accidental but the act that caused it is malicious - that’s the issue in the case,” Payne said. “A person can do something so reckless that even if they don’t intend to kill someone murder can result.”

Comack’s family members have said they don’t believe the Christmas Day shooting was accidental. Herrera ran from the home after the shooting and was later arrested by police.

The shooting occurred at a home on 14th Street in St. Maries. Neither Herrera nor Comack lives there. Friends described Herrera as Comack’s boyfriend and said they both worked at Valley Vista Care Center in St. Maries, where Comack was a certified nursing assistance. Comack graduated this year from the Kootenai Bridge Academy.

Previous arrests for Herrera include misdemeanor domestic violence battery in Benewah County in 2009, which was dismissed after he completed a deferred prosecution program. He was convicted of misdemeanor battery in 2008. He also was convicted in Kootenai County in 2007 of frequenting a place where controlled substances are used.

Payne said Herrera told investigators the firearm was present in the room because he was “making sure it was unloaded.”

“Obviously, it wasn’t,” Payne said. Other people were in the home when the shooting occurred but no one else was in the room, Payne said.

Payne said more details will be released at Herrera’s preliminary hearing, which is to be held within two weeks.

The homicide is Benewah County’s third this year.

In April, a Spokane man allegedly stabbed another man to death in Plummer, Idaho. In May, a 26-year-old St. Maries woman allegedly shot her uncle to death, then tried to burn his body. Previously, the county had seen just one - the 2006 death of 76-year-old woman - in 17 years.

“Things come in threes,” Payne said. “I hope this is end of it.”

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