Trooper: 'I wish I could trade places' with victim David Kedra

Former Pennsylvania State Trooper Richard Schroeter (right) is escorted from the Montgomery County Courthouse after being sentenced. (DAVID SWANSON/Staff Photographer)

Richard Schroeter remembered his conversation with David Kedra.

Both were state troopers in the Montgomery County barracks - Schroeter a veteran, Kedra a relative newcomer.

But they shared a bond: The younger trooper said he aspired to reach the same heights as Schroeter, a 43-year-old corporal and firearms instructor. Kedra, 26, wanted to someday teach others how to safely use guns.

"He was on his way to being an excellent trooper," Schroeter said.

He recounted the story Friday in a Norristown courtroom packed with troopers and Kedra's family. It marked Schroeter's first public comments since the day last fall when, during a routine training exercise, the longtime instructor failed to perform a safety check on his gun, squeezed the trigger, and shot and killed his young colleague.

" 'Sorry' doesn't begin to express the feelings I feel," Schroeter, 43, told Kedra's relatives, other troopers, and his own family and friends. "I wish I could trade places with him."

For more than an hour, witnesses and observers shed tears amid testimony about the two officers. Lawyers argued how justice could be served in an unthinkable accident that took the life of one trooper and ended the stellar career of another.

In the end, Judge Garrett D. Page sentenced Schroeter to two weeks in jail and three to 18 months of house arrest. He will be released from jail days before the first anniversary of Kedra's death.

The proceeding closed the case, but didn't represent closure.

"Two weeks? My brother's life is worth two weeks?" Kedra's sister Christine shouted at the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Samantha Cauffman, outside the courtroom.

As he handed down the sentence, Page acknowledged the grief and anger of Kedra's family, juxtaposed with the dozens of friends and colleagues present to attest to Schroeter's good character.

"On this particular day in question, it wasn't all good," Page said. "Someone died."

Kedra, of Northeast Philadelphia, had always dreamed of becoming a state trooper. He and his fiancee purchased a home shortly before his death, and he was preparing to be the best man at his brother's wedding.

On Sept. 30, he was one of five troopers in Schroeter's firearms course when Schroeter squeezed the trigger on his weapon and fatally shot Kedra in the abdomen.

After months of investigation, prosecutors charged Schroeter in February with five misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment, one for each of the troopers in his class that day. Based on the recommendation of a grand jury, prosecutors declined to charge him with involuntary manslaughter.

Friends and colleagues on Friday described Schroeter as a trooper who loved his job, a volunteer firefighter who declined to go out with friends in case a fire call came in, and a man who had been wracked with remorse since the killing.

The Rev. Edward Brady, the state police chaplain who presided at Kedra's funeral and maintains a close relationship with Schroeter, spoke about both men.

"To the Kedra family, my heart goes out to you," he said. "It's difficult."

Brady paused, then told of Schroeter's strong character and deep remorse over the shooting. "He mourns it every day," he said.

Schroeter, of Royersford, has retired from the state police.

He was an "A-plus" firearms instructor, said Brenda Bernot, a police chief in Chester County and retired state police captain who worked with Schroeter and has investigated several accidental discharges. "As long as the person handling the firearm is human, you are going to have mistakes," she said.

A mistake was not a sufficient explanation for Kedra's family members, still outraged at Schroeter, the state police, and prosecutors.

"There's nothing that can bring David back," said brother Kevin. "That's a fact that I struggle with every day. But there needs to be accountability."

In addition to jail and house arrest, Schroeter will also serve four years of probation, perform 150 hours of community service, and pay a $1,000 fine.

Cauffman did not ask Page to impose jail time on Schroeter. "This wasn't your typical bad, terrible man," she said after the hearing.

Schroeter cried at times during the hearing. But he maintained his composure as he read a statement to Kedra's family.

"If you don't [forgive me], I understand," he said, "because I don't think I'll ever forgive myself for the pain I caused you."


lmccrystal@phillynews.com

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