AUBURN — On Tuesday, defense attorney Scott Lynch asserted that if Gerard Parent had not been drinking, had been attired in required blaze orange clothing and had not been in the woods hunting Nov. 20, 2012, he would not have been killed.
Blaming the victim for his own death, Assistant Attorney General John Alsop said, is improper.
Christopher Austin, 43, of Wales was charged with manslaughter and discharging a firearm near a residential dwelling in Parent’s death.
Austin faces up to 30 years in prison, if convicted.
Lynch argued before Justice MaryGay Kennedy in Androscoggin County Superior Court that he should be permitted to bring two expert witnesses to the stand, one who will testify that Parent was impaired because his blood alcohol level was .07 percent at the time of his death, and the second to testify that Parent “negligently placed himself in the direct line of fire” by going out into the woods after the same deer Austin was stalking, causing his death.
Alsop said any testimony that may be offered by these witnesses would be misleading and irrelevant to the charge of manslaughter. At the time Parent was shot, Alsop said, Austin did not know Parent’s blood alcohol content and Austin had a legal duty to identify his target before shooting.
In fact, Alsop said, several witnesses were prepared to testify that after the shooting Austin attempted to pull Parent toward the road and others approached to help. Austin asked several of them: “‘Why the heck was this guy wearing white?'” Alsop said, indicating Austin had not properly identified his target, but shot at “something” white moving in the woods.
Allowing experts to testify that Parent caused his own death would be like allowing testimony that Karen Wood “caused her own death by hanging her laundry,” Alsop said.
Wood, who was the mother of 1-year-old twin girls, was killed in November 1988 in Hermon by a hunter who mistook her white mittens for a deer. That hunter, Donald Rogerson, was charged with manslaughter and found not guilty. Maine later adopted a target identification law to require that hunters be able to see the entire deer before shooting.
Parent died, Alsop argued, “from a bullet wound shot by the defendant” and not from his own actions.
The focus of the manslaughter charge “is not on the victim. The focus is on the conduct of the defendant,” Alsop said, in deciding what testimony should be permitted at trial.
Lynch forcefully disagreed.
“We have a rule in Maine that hunters are responsible for their own conduct,” he said, and the jury should be permitted to hear what brought Parent and Austin together at the time and place of the shooting.
Maine law prohibits hunters from being in the woods hunting if they are impaired in the slightest way, Lynch said, and they are required to wear blaze orange.
In this case, Lynch argued, Parent “coveted” a deer he must have seen from his house and “rushed from his house, leaving his beer and marijuana behind.” He was wearing a white T-shirt, slippers, and a blaze orange vest that wasn’t tied so it wasn’t visible from the front. He was not wearing a blaze orange hat, Lynch said, and fired his gun about 300 feet from his neighbor’s house.
According to court records, Parent fired one shot and Austin fired two. They are believed to have been shooting at the same deer, and Austin’s second shot killed Parent.
After the shooting, a warden who responded to the scene saw a six-point basket-rack deer matching the description of the deer Austin told officers he was firing at. Another witness saw two deer in the area before Austin went into the woods, proving there were deer in the vicinity and that Austin believed he was shooting a deer, Lynch said.
Lynch suggested Kennedy could turn to the standard advice offered by mothers that “if you weren’t there where you weren’t supposed to be, doing what you weren’t supposed to do, this wouldn’t have happened” in deciding whether the expert witnesses could testify that Parent “had some share of responsibility for his death.”
Lynch argued that comparing this case to the Karen Wood case was wrong because Parent “was not a nice lady with two children hanging her laundry.” He said Parent was hunting at twilight and the jury had a right to hear that he wasn’t following Maine’s hunting laws.
“This accident would not have occurred but for Mr. Parent’s criminal actions,” Lynch said, and the two expert witnesses he would like to introduce “will help the jury understand the facts of the case.”
One of the witnesses is a New Hampshire firearms expert who has studied the state’s case and is prepared to testify that Parent “negligently placed himself in the direct line of fire” across from Austin.
The second witness, toxicologist Dr. Richard Parent of Damariscotta, has also studied the state’s case and concluded that the victim’s judgment and behavior were impaired at the time of the incident because he had been drinking.
Alsop asked the court to bar these witnesses from testifying, saying their opinions of the case are irrelevant and it is for the jury to decide on the manslaughter charge based on the facts presented at trial. He said both witnesses had reached opinions “well beyond” their expertise, and the “notion the victim got what was coming to him” was improper.
Kennedy took the arguments under advisement and had not ruled by late Tuesday.