June 24, 2018
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Jury to resume deliberations in lobsterman shooting case

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — Jury deliberations in the shooting trial of a Matinicus man and his daughter will resume today.

The jury of eight women and four men weighed the evidence for about three hours Thursday before asking to go home for the night at about 5 p.m.

Edwin Vance Bunker, 68, who also has a home in Owls Head, is charged with two counts of elevated aggravated assault, criminal threatening and reckless conduct. Janan Miller, 46, of Spruce Head is charged with reckless conduct for bringing a loaded shotgun to the town dock.

Their joint trial began Monday in the Knox County courtroom. Both defendants took the stand in their own defense in a case that has highlighted tensions over who may fish in the waters around Matinicus and how accusations over gear-cutting escalated to something far more serious.

Bunker testified late Wednesday and on Thursday morning that he acted in self-defense on July 20, 2009, when he pointed a loaded revolver at two fellow fishermen and pulled the trigger twice. The first shot missed Weston Ames, 44, of Matinicus, but the second struck his stepbrother Christopher Young, 42, of Owls Head in the neck.

“I had no choice,” Bunker told the jury Thursday about why he fired the .22-caliber revolver. “I was protecting my daughter.”

Ames grabbed the shotgun after Miller pointed it at him and Young, according to testimony presented earlier this week.

After Bunker’s testimony Thursday, Knox County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau told the jury that both Bunker and Miller overreacted when they brought loaded guns to the dock that day. Ames and Young, Rushlau said, were angry, but both were unarmed and the defendants could see that they had no weapons.

“There’s nothing justified about [the shooting],” Rushlau said. “There was a lot of language, there was a lot of cursing that day. But there was no need of guns on the dock on Matinicus that day.”

He urged the jury to find both defendants guilty of all charges.

Defense attorneys William Avantaggio of Damariscotta, who represents Miller, and Philip Cohen of Waldoboro, who represents Bunker, said their clients took reasonable steps to protect their loved ones after events on July 19 and July 20. Both urged the jury to return verdicts of not guilty on all charges

Avantaggio, during his closing argument, took out a tape measure and used it to demonstrate how far Miller was standing from Young and Ames when she leveled the shotgun at them. Placing one end of the tape measure in front of the judge’s bench, the attorney backed up 30 feet. He stopped in the middle of the spectators’ gallery, far closer to the exit doors than to the judge or the jury.

“My greatest fear is that you will look at that [shotgun] and say this is too much,” he told jurors. “But the fact is, she stopped 30 feet away from Christopher Young and Weston Ames. If she hadn’t stopped and had in fact run up to them and pushed them, that would have been too much force.”

Cohen urged jurors to put themselves in Bunker’s head on July 20.

“All he knows is these men have been terrorizing him and his family for the past 24 hours,” Cohen told the jury. “All he ever did was respond.”

In assessing whether what Bunker did was self-defense, Cohen told jurors to “ask yourself, ‘What type of father would pull the trigger?’

“The real question is ‘What father wouldn’t?’” he concluded.

Events leading up to the shooting are rooted in a tradition of allowing only those who live, own property and vote on Matinicus to fish the island’s water. State law allows all fishermen to set traps in the zones in which they are licensed.

Last June, Miller’s husband, Alan Miller, 60, of Spruce Head, set lobster traps around Matinicus for the first time. He previously had fished in Wheeler Bay and knew most Matinicus lobstermen were opposed to his setting traps around the island, according to testimony.

The day before the shooting, Ames confronted Bunker and Alan Miller on the dock over lost gear. Ames accused the two older men of cutting his traps, which they denied. About 6 a.m. the next morning, Young boarded Bunker’s boat without permission and threatened to kill the captain before Bunker pepper-sprayed him, witnesses testified earlier this week.

Later that morning, Ames and Young chased Alan Miller’s boat and made threats his wife heard over the radio that lobstermen use to communicate with each other and relatives onshore. Janan Miller told the jury that after the chase broke off she saw her husband’s boat coming into the harbor and Ames and Young waiting for him on the dock.

She told the jury she grabbed a shotgun, which she did not know how to use, and ran to the dock to protect her husband, whose life she believed was in danger. Bunker testified that he brought a loaded .22-caliber revolver to the dock after he learned the brothers were there waiting for his son-in-law.

Neither she nor her father knew a Marine Patrol officer was on board, hoping to overhear a confession of gear cutting.

Jury deliberations will resume today even though it is a state shutdown day. The courts are open on shutdown days, according to information on the Maine judiciary’s Web site, but rarely handle criminal matters because prosecutors normally don’t work on shutdown days.

Information on the court system’s Web site states that “criminal trials in progress will be suspended until the next non-shutdown day unless constitutional rights are implicated in the suspension.”

The decision on whether to suspend jury deliberations for a state shutdown day is at the discretion of the judge, according Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the court system.

Bunker remains free on $125,000 bail but is banned from Matinicus. His daughter is free on $5,000 unsecured bail. If convicted of the most serious charge, elevated aggravated assault, Bunker faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000. He has no criminal record, according to his attorney.

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