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Published February 04, 2011, 02:12 PM

Military: No Charges in Minot Off-base Shooting

North Dakota prosecutors have agreed to a military request not to pursue criminal charges against a Minot Air Force Base staff sergeant who shot and severely wounded a subordinate airman during a weapons training exercise at an off-base gun range near the city.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota prosecutors have agreed to a military request not to pursue criminal charges against a Minot Air Force Base staff sergeant who shot and severely wounded a subordinate airman during a weapons training exercise at an off-base gun range near the city.

The Air Force told The Associated Press that it won't seek charges against Robert Klink, who remains on active duty at a unit that provides security for 150 Minuteman III missiles sunk in hardened silos in central and western North Dakota.

A military law expert called the Air Force's action atypical, and said that such cases almost always result in a court-martial.

"It is an unusually lenient disposition of the case under the circumstances," said Philip Cave, a military crimes defense attorney and retired Navy lawyer in Alexandria, Va., who has prosecuted or defended more than 2,000 military cases in his three-decade career, including accidental shootings.

Airman Jacob Udell, 23, suffered gunshot wounds to both legs on Oct. 1 at the Minot Rifle and Pistol Range, Sgt. Larry Hubbard of the Ward County sheriff's department said. Five airmen from "an advanced team of special security forces" were at the gun club training with firearms, including automatic weapons, when Udell was shot by Klink, Hubbard said.

"There were three on one end of the range and two on the other end and they were not communicating when the two went down to check their targets," Hubbard said.

Air Force spokeswoman Genieve David said Udell has been on medical leave since the shooting, and is recovering "faster than expected." He will likely return to duty in April, David said.

Klink and Udell are members of the base's 91st Security Forces Group. Klink was the highest-ranking airman at the range and was in charge of the training exercise, David said.

Telephone messages left at the base for Klink and Udell were not returned.

Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski, who also is president of the gun club, said the Air Force had leased time for weapons training at the state-owned range, which was off-limits to civilians during the exercise.

The sheriff said he's been active in the Minot Rifle and Pistol Club for more than 20 years and the Air Force shooting was the first at the facility. The club has about 1,000 members.

Kukowski said such a shooting at a gun range — military or civilian — could result in Class C felony charges, each punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

"It depends on the extent of the injury, but it could be charged with aggravated assault or reckless endangerment," he said. "But we do not make a charge without permission of the state's attorney."

Ward County State's Attorney Rozanna Larson did not return repeated telephone calls from the AP seeking comment. The sheriff said case was turned over to the military.

"The Air Force requested that they take over the investigation," he said.

Capt. David, the Air Force spokeswoman, said the military would not release details of its investigation, and that Klink would not face a court-martial.

"Appropriate action was taken but I can't give specifics," she said Friday.

The Air Force would not say whether Klink was disciplined under an Article 15 review, which allow punishments without a court proceeding or public record.

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