June 23, 2018
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Shooting of best friend with shotgun ‘no tragic accident,’ says assistant attorney general

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

BELFAST, Maine — The long minutes that ticked away immediately after a shotgun blast to the neck killed Tyler Seaney on Feb. 19, 2011, were punctuated by the hysterical sobs of his girlfriend and the frantic efforts of his best friend Luke Bryant to revive him.

The manslaughter trial of Bryant, who shot the 19-year-old Seaney with a Mossberg Model A shotgun, began Tuesday morning in Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast. Just after the opening statements by the prosecutor and defense attorney, jurors heard the 911 tape that detailed, at times excruciatingly, what happened in the rural Knox apartment after Bryant called for help.

“Is there bleeding?” the emergency dispatcher asked Bryant.

“Yes, there’s blood everywhere,” an audibly distressed Bryant responded, telling the dispatcher that the gun had gone off accidentally.

Then the dispatcher asked him if Seaney, who lived in Belfast and Glenburn, was awake.

“He’s dead,” Bryant replied.

Nevertheless, the dispatcher coached the Knox man, now 20 years old, into staunching Seaney’s neck wound and administering CPR until emergency responders arrived approximately 20 minutes later.

Some of Seaney’s family and friends in the courtroom Tuesday cried quietly as they listened to the recording. Bryant sat at the defendant’s table, his eyes downcast, and did not turn to look back at the three people in the gallery who appeared to be there to support him.

His court-appointed defense attorney, Steven Peterson of Rockport, had earlier told the jurors that in order to find Bryant guilty of manslaughter they had to find proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he had acted with criminal negligence when he shot and killed his best friend.

“The facts in this case, in a lot of ways, aren’t in dispute,” Peterson said. “The shotgun discharged as Tyler came out of the bathroom. It instantly killed Tyler. The response of Luke Bryant to that was horror. He did not know it was loaded.”

But Assistant Maine Attorney General Leane Zainea said that although the state is not suggesting that Bryant intentionally or knowingly killed his friend, he did act with criminal negligence.

“The defendant knew about the proper handling of firearms,” she said. “He knew that when you were clearing a gun or cleaning it, you point it in a safe direction.”

Both Zainea and Peterson mentioned the so-called “ scare game” that Bryant and Seaney had allegedly played with each other. The game entailed pointing a gun at the other person in order to get a reaction.

Whitney Canfield, Seaney’s then-17-year-old girlfriend, told police investigators she had seen the teens playing this game before.

Zainea said that it took six pounds of pressure to pull the trigger of the shotgun.

“This was no tragic accident,” she said of the shooting. “A tragic accident occurs when you have no control over the circumstances.”

In her opening remarks, Zainea detailed those circumstances. Bryant, Seaney and Canfield had been spending the weekend together at Bryant’s apartment in a farmhouse in Knox. It was a few weeks before Seaney was due to begin basic training for the U.S. Army. The trio had gone grocery shopping in Bangor on Friday, then watched movies until early Saturday morning. They then planned to go to the movies that night and then go target shooting behind the farmhouse.

But on Saturday evening, Canfield didn’t feel well and so they delayed leaving the apartment. The young men moved three guns from the room where Bryant normally stored them to the apartment kitchen. And when Seaney got up from watching television to go to the bathroom, Bryant got up, too, Zainea said.

“He went to the kitchen to pick up the shotgun,” she said in her opening remarks.

Although Bryant initially told police that he had picked it up to clean it, he later told investigators he had aimed the gun at Seaney and dry-fired it to scare him.

Zainea described the bloody mess left behind in the bathroom after the shooting.

“This is a case about causing the death of another human being,” she said.

The jury trial, presided by Justice Robert Murray, is expected to last through the rest of the week.

If the jury convicts Bryant of the Class A manslaughter charge, he could face up to 30 years in prison.

Correction: An early version of this story contained an incorrect headline. Assistant Maine Attorney General Leane Zainea said, not testified, that the shooting was "no tragic accident." Zainea did not take the stand to testify.

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