MAYVILLE – When Jamie Billquist talked about what kind of punishment he wanted to see for the man who killed his wife, he most often used one word. That word, Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson said, was “accountable.”
Billquist wanted Thomas B. Jadlowski to be held accountable for the accidental shooting of Rosemary "Rosie" Billquist on the day before Thanksgiving of 2017. Jadlowski, thinking he was shooting at a deer, shot her while she walked her dogs in her backyard of the couples’ Sherman home.
When Swanson happened to cross paths with Jamie Billquist last week, Jamie Billquist said he wanted something else: a genuine apology from Jadlowski.
He got both Monday morning inside a somber Chautauqua County Courthouse as the legal side of a community tragedy concluded. Judge David Foley sentenced Jadlowski, who pleaded guilty in October 2018 to criminally negligent homicide and hunting after sunset, to an “indeterminate sentence” of one to three years in state prison. Foley described the case as "tragic in every sense."
“Accountability is really what Jamie wanted,” Swanson said, “and that was always in the form of a state prison term.”
The length of the sentence will be decided by the state parole board. Swanson said Jadlowski has been credited with more than three months of time served since he pleaded guilty on Oct. 4.
Jamie Billquist did not address the court.
At the beginning of defense attorney Michael Robert Cerrie’s time to address the court, he read a short statement that he said was written by Jadlowski. "My client has written this,” Cerrie said. “He is unable to read it at this time, so I will read it for him."
Thomas Jadlowski enters the court. He wrote a statement but was unable to read it. pic.twitter.com/aEjujDiByQ
— Keith McShea (@ByKeithMcShea) January 14, 2019
The statement read: "I would like to say that not a single day does not go by that I do not think about what I have done. I would like to send my love and prayers to Rosemary’s family. From Day One, I’ve been advised by law enforcement and my attorney not to have any contact with the victim’s family. I would like to apologize for that. I should have reached out sooner. Today I would like to say that I am sorry from the bottom of my heart. I know that sorry will not fix what I have done. I just hope that someday you all can forgive me for what I have done."
Foley said he recognized the nature of what Jadlowski had done and took that into account. He said he knew that the shooting was not intentional.
"Sometimes accidents rise to the level of criminal culpability; and in this case, I think your actions do denote that you acted with criminal negligence," he said.
When Foley asked if Jadlowski had anything else to say, he shook his head and said, “No sir.”
Swanson stressed the importance of Jadlowski’s apology by mentioning his impromptu in-person lunch hour meeting last week with Jamie Billquist. Swanson acknowledged that the apology was read by Jadlowski’s attorney, but he thought that was for good reason.
“My impression was, that the defendant I don’t think was capable of speaking, I think he was that broken up,” Swanson said. “I think the family heard the apology, I think the apology was accepted, and I know the family is happy to be able to close this rather dark chapter in their lives.”
After reading the statement from his client, Cerrie addressed the court about how Jadlowski is the father of a 16-year-old son, and how Jadlowski responded to his action after he fired his rifle. He said Jadlowski could have "lawyered up" or he could have admitted what he had done.
"Absent my client’s admissions, and absent my client’s statements, and absent his presence at the scene that day, I don’t think that law enforcement would have had enough to connect him with this crime," Cerrie said. "Or he could have done exactly what he did, exactly what he’s always done – try to help. Try to make a terrible situation better."
Swanson concluded his courtroom remarks with the hope that Jadlowski become an advocate for safe hunting upon his release.
"My hope is that a tragedy like this never happens," Swanson said. "My hope is that every hunter views this case as a reminder of what can happen when they break the rules. My hope is that Mr. Jadlowski, once released from his prison term, make an effort to educate fellow hunters."
Swanson is a native of Sherman, where his parents still live. He knows both families involved in this case, and knows that they live down the street from each other.
"Speaking with the people that I know there, from what I understand, many members of the community felt the same way that Jamie felt," Swanson said. "They wanted him to be held accountable. They didn’t want to forever ruin his life, or his son’s life, but they wanted him held accountable. And I think in many peoples’ eyes that included a term in prison.
"I believe the community is in as good of a place as it could be right now, moving forward. I know most of the people there in some way, and I know that this is something that most of the people wanted to put behind them."