ROCKLAND, Maine — For Edwin Vance Bunker, the end of his trial means the knot in his stomach has finally come undone.
A jury on Friday found Bunker, 68, of Matinicus and his daughter Janan Miller, 46, of Spruce Head not guilty of charges connected with the shooting of Matinicus fisherman Christopher Young on the town dock last July. Bunker and Miller argued they acted in self-defense after several physical and verbal confrontations arising from fishing territory disputes, including vandalized lobster gear.
After a trial in Knox County Superior Court that took most of last week, the jury found Bunker innocent of two counts of elevated aggravated assault, criminal threatening and reckless conduct, and Miller innocent of reckless conduct for bringing a loaded shotgun to the town dock.
For police, the verdict may result in increased patrol on the island. For the fishing community, the effects are less clear.
“I feel much better and things are going fine right now,” Bunker said in a telephone interview Sunday. “I’m not looking for any trouble.”
He said he plans to head back to his Matinicus house next week, if the weather is nice.
“I’m not changing my way of life. I’m going back fishing when it comes time. I’m going home,” he said. Bunker has been staying in his Owls Head house for seven months.
Bunker said he is thankful for the support of his neighbors. He received about 20 phone calls the day the verdict was announced.
“I really want to thank everyone who stood behind me on this. People the whole length of the coast have been supportive,” Bunker said.
Ryan Post of Rockland, a lobsterman who fishes out of Metinic Island about 12 miles west of Matinicus, said he knows the fishermen around Matinicus and he hopes the incident doesn’t cause the rest of the country to think poorly of midcoast fishermen.
“We have a bit of black eye because of this case, and it’s getting out all around the United States that we are a bunch of pirates running around the sea,” Post said. “That’s not who we are.”
Post, who made a film about Maine’s lobster industry, “Maine Buggin’,” said that although he hopes there won’t be any retaliation because of the verdict, tensions among lobster fishermen will not cease any time soon.
“Territorial disputes will go on through the existence of the industry. It won’t go away because of this verdict,” Post said. “Even if this was a guilty verdict and he went away for 30 years, it will still continue. It’s part of the industry.”
Alexandra Watkinson of Owls Head, who works at the Owls Head Lobster Co., was less hopeful.
“I think it will make everyone more mad,” Watkinson said of the verdict while working at the Owls Head wharf Sunday.
“I think the victim and everyone on his side will be upset about it,” she said. “There are very strong views on both sides.”
Fisherman Alan Philbrook of Owls Head, who was also at the wharf Sunday, said no one on Matinicus will “ever pull a gun out ever again.”
“I think it scared people,” Philbrook said of the incident. “They could have gone to prison for a long time. They’ve got to think twice about bringing a gun to a fight again.”
Sgt. Jeff Mills from the Maine State Police in Thomaston said he and his colleagues are working to stem any potential violence or repercussions from the verdict by being around Matinicus more.
Maine State Police will sporadically check on the island, he said, adding that visiting at random times keeps people on their toes.
“They’re trying to make livings and obviously when you feel something is infringing on your ability to make a living, it’s an event that causes a lot of emotion, so we’re trying to prevent any retaliatory incidents from taking place,” Mills said. “We want them to make a living in a peaceful manner without the fear of having something done to them. We’re doing what we can to try to prevent that.”