Monday, October 4, 2010

Shoot Husband, Collect $500,000


[Editor's Note: What kind of hunter's wife would take a blind shot at dusk, knowing her husband was in the bush? A murderer. What kind of Judge would acquit her, despite the evidence she collect $ 500,000 insurance and was having an affair? Ten to one, the judge is a Freemason. Why wasn't she tried by a jury?]

by Richard Foot, Postmedia News · Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010

The sun had already set when Mark Harshbarger decided to call off the hunt for an elusive black bear through a Newfoundland forest and head back to the car where his wife and children were waiting.

As the 42-year-old hunter, on holiday from his home in Pennsylvania, made his way along an overgrown logging trail, a single bullet suddenly ripped through his abdomen, killing him almost instantly.

Mary Beth Harshbarger had shot her husband, claiming afterward she thought he was a bear.

Yesterday, a provincial judge found the 45-year-old mother of three not guilty of criminal negligence causing death.

The verdict follows nine days of emotional testimony in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., where Ms. Harshbarger, and her estranged Pennsylvania in-laws, broke down while watching a police video played in court of Mr. Harshbarger's body, lying face-up in the forest clearing, with a bullet hole ripped through his abdomen.

The case, widely followed by media organizations on both sides of the border, has raised questions about the degree of responsibility hunters face for the safety of others and what conduct constitutes a crime in the event of a hunting death.

The killing of Mr. Harshbarger was "an accident and nothing more," ruled Newfoundland Supreme Court Justice Richard LeBlanc -- the result of a "constellation of unfortunate facts which led Mrs. Harshbarger to conclude that she was shooting at a bear."

Her in-laws have publicly insisted Ms. Harshbarger deliberately killed her husband to collect a US$500,000 insurance policy on his life, and to take up a romantic relationship with his oldest brother Barry, who like Ms. Harshbarger is estranged from the rest of the family.

She has said she loved and missed her husband, and dismissed his family's claims as nothing but "lies" and "small-town talk."

In a telephone interview from Pennsylviania following the verdict, Mr. Harshbarger's older brother, Dean, said he was "very disappointed" and now fears for his own safety now that his former sister-in-law is returning home.

"Letting this woman go, now she's going to be even more emboldened to come back here and wreak more havoc on everybody's lives," he said. "This is a woman who should never have a gun again in her life."

Court records show Ms. Harshbarger was convicted in 1992 in the United States of simple assault, after she entered a woman's home at night with a firearm. The conviction was not considered relevant evidence at her trial here this month.

After the verdict yesterday, Ms. Harshbarger walked silently out of court, climbed into her lawyer's white Mercedes, rolled down the window and let out a whoop of victory as she was driven away a free woman.

Her lawyer, Karl Inder, said she was looking forward to returning home to Pennsylvania to see her three children, one of whom has cerebral palsy.

The experienced hunter has maintained for years that she mistakenly thought her husband was a black bear when she shot him through the chest with a hunting rifle in the dim light of a late-summer evening in the central Newfoundland woods on Sept. 14, 2006.

Mr. Harshbarger was walking alone out of the forest toward the pickup truck where Ms. Harshbarger was waiting with her two young children, and a loaded hunting rifle at her side. An expert markswoman, she aimed through her scope at what she said looked like the rough outlines of a bear, and fired.

Judge LeBlanc, who decided the case without a jury, said he accepted Ms. Harshbarger's statements to police that she did not intend to harm her husband.

"The death of Mark Harshbarger was clearly an unintended act of the shooting," LeBlanc said.

Because Ms. Harshbarger was not charged with murder, the case rested not on issues of malice or motive, but on whether she acted recklessly, and without regard for the safety of others.

Police re-enactments of the scene found that, because the sun had already set and the woods were becoming dark, Ms. Harshbarger could reasonably have believed a person walking toward her, in the long grass at the scene of the shooting, might have been an animal.

Judge LeBlanc said Ms. Harshbarger believed there was a bear in the area, which her husband and a hunting guide had walked together into the woods to flush out. Mr. Harshbarger was expecting his wife to fire on a bear if one appeared.

The judge said Mr. Harshbarger walked back to the truck alone, after his guide stopped in the trees to urinate. He was not wearing hunter orange or other bright clothing, and he was hunched over -- looking at the rough ground -- when he came toward her.

"She had good reason to believe it was a bear," said Judge LeBlanc, adding that Ms. Harshbarger's decision to shoot, "does not meet the necessary level of blameworthy conduct" to be a crime.

Prosecutors did not say if they would appeal the decision.

Dean Harshbarger questioned the reasoning of the judge, and warned it could lead to reduced hunting safety.

"The judge is now saying that anybody in the woods is fair game for any hunter," he said.

"If you see movement, you can shoot at it and then say, 'whoops, I made a mistake, I shot at a black mass.' It doesn't matter any more."


No comments:

Post a Comment