BELFAST, Maine — A young man accused of shooting his best friend to death last February in a farmhouse on a country road in Knox will be tried this week for manslaughter at Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast.
Luke Bryant, 20, of Knox, could face up to 30 years in prison if a jury convicts him of the Class A manslaughter charge, according to his court-appointed attorney, Steven Peterson of Rockport.
“We’re contending it was not manslaughter — it was just a tragic accident that happened,” Peterson said Thursday.
The jury will be selected Monday for the trial, which is expected to begin Tuesday and last through the end of the week. Assistant Maine Attorney General Leane Zainea will prosecute the case.
According to a police affidavit filed after the fatal shooting, Bryant and 19-year-old Tyler Seaney were in Bryant’s apartment the evening of Feb. 19, 2011 along with Seaney’s then-17-year-old girlfriend, Whitney Canfield.
Seaney, who lived in both Glenburn and Belfast, was waiting to start basic training for the U.S. Army.
Canfield told police later that night that the two young men liked to play a game that entailed them pointing guns at one another in order to scare each other.
A little bit before 7 p.m., Bryant was reportedly waiting for Seaney to exit the bathroom and had aimed a Mossberg Model 500 A shotgun at the bathroom door. He told police later that he had meant to scare his friend by “dry-firing” the shotgun, or pulling the trigger of an unloaded gun to make a clicking sound.
But the gun was in fact loaded with pellets, which ripped through Seaney’s neck, according to the affidavit.
Canfield, who was reportedly not a witness to the shooting, heard a bang, and then Bryant ran down the hallway toward her.
“You gotta come here, I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was loaded,” he allegedly told her, according to Maine State Police Detective Jason Andrews’ affidavit.
He called 911 and told the dispatcher he had accidentally shot Seaney with a shotgun. He was performing CPR on his friend when police arrived at the remote farmhouse about 15 minutes later. Members of the Unity Volunteer Ambulance Corps pronounced Seaney dead at the scene.
In police interviews conducted in the days after the shooting, Bryant said he had wanted to “get Tyler back” for shooting him in the leg with an Airsoft gun earlier that day, according to the police affidavit.
He had initially told police that he had accidentally pulled the trigger on the shotgun and was not trying to scare Seaney.
Bryant was arrested days after the shooting and charged with manslaughter. He was released from jail in late February, 2011 after paying bail of $25,000 cash or $100,000 surety.
“The gun discharged. His best friend died because of it,” Peterson said. “It’s our position it’s not criminal negligence.”
Zainea chose not to speak with the Bangor Daily News ahead of the trial.