ROCKLAND, Maine — A Knox County jury deliberated for 20 minutes Wednesday morning before finding a Cushing lobsterman not guilty of criminally threatening two men in another boat.
Outside the courtroom after the verdict, Gary Jones, 52, who faced up to five years in prison on the felony charge, called the Department of Marine Resources corrupt and said changes in the agency were needed. He did not elaborate or offer further comment.
But during his testimony Tuesday, Jones said he has had to deal with harassment and threats from Yeaton family members for 15 years and claimed the state has not done anything to help.
“For 15 years this has happened and they have said there is nothing they can do,” Jones said.
Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Baroody said in his closing argument Wednesday that Jones was a very hot-headed person who had no faith in law enforcement.
“He was ready to take the law into his own hands,” Baroody said, by bringing a 12-gauge shotgun out to a verbal dispute on the waters off Cushing on Oct. 10, 2012.
Jones was accused of threatening Jeremy Yeaton and Justin Brazier with the shotgun and firing two shots.
Baroody dismissed Jones’ claims that he feared being rammed by Yeaton’s lobster boat. The prosecutor said Yeaton would not have rammed either of the Joneses’ vessels because that also would have put Yeaton and Brazier at risk out on the ocean.
The prosecutor maintained that Jones could have retreated and that there was no real threat to either he or his son Logan, who was in a third lobster boat when the incident occurred.
Brazier testified Tuesday that he and Yeaton were on the water in Yeaton’s father’s lobster boat simply to make sure the Yeaton family’s traps were safe. Jeremy Yeaton did not testify. No explanation was given about why he did not testify.
Defense attorney Steven Peterson countered during his closing statement on Wednesday that Jones committed no crime.
“If I’ve ever seen a clear case of self defense, this is it,” Peterson told jurors.
The defense attorney argued that Gary Jones had endured significant events that year that included the sinking of both his lobster boat and his son’s boat in May 2012. Those vessels had been taken out of the harbor, their hoses cut, and intentionally sunk, causing a combined $65,000 in damages not including the lost income from not being able to lobster. No one was ever charged with those crimes. The Joneses also had lobster traps cut from their buoy lines throughout the summer and hundreds of traps cut the night before the shotgun incident. The loss of the gear on that one night totaled $10,000, the defense said.
Jones testified Tuesday that he pulled out the shotgun after Yeaton came at him in his boat at a high rate of speed. Jones’ son Logan, now 17, also testified that he was on the water that day to haul traps and found string after string cut. He said Brazier then radioed him to ask where he was located so he could return a trap. Logan Jones said that a few minutes later, Yeaton and Brazier appeared, came at his boat at a high rate of speed and then circled around it, making it difficult for him to try to leave.
The younger Jones said he had radioed his father earlier to bring out engine coolant because his engine had overheated. Gary Jones said that when he was heading out on the water to help his son, he heard radio traffic between Yeaton and his son.
Peterson said Yeaton was on the water to intimidate and force Logan Jones out of the lobster business. The defense attorney said this was part of a pattern of actions by the Yeatons against Jones and his family.
He pointed out how Yeaton’s older brother Heath Yeaton had previously been convicted of cutting Jones’ traps. Court records show that Heath Yeaton was fined in 2009 for theft of gear from Gary Jones after a more serious charge of molesting lobster gear was dismissed. Gary Jones’ wife also testified Tuesday that another Yeaton family member had accosted her in a store earlier in 2012 and that she obtained a protection order against him from the court.
Gary Jones, his son Logan and Logan’s sternman, Doug Anderson, all testified Tuesday that the older Jones did not fire the gun but simply displayed it during the altercation on the water.
Brazier testified that he and Yeaton were on the water simply to make sure the traps of Yeaton’s family were safe. Jeremy Yeaton did not testify. No explanation was given about why he did not testify..
Lt. Rene Cloutier of the Maine Marine Patrol said Wednesday evening that he respects the jury’s decision with the information it had been provided.
Cloutier said the accusation that the department was corrupt was ridiculous, saying officers have spent countless hours putting officers on islands to secretly observe in areas where there have been reports of destruction of lobster gear.
Correction: A previous version referred to Jeremy Yeaton and Justin Brazier as fishermen. They were but were not licensed fishermen.