BELFAST, Maine — A judge has found Jerome Reynolds Jr. liable for the wrongful death of Janet Bacon, the woman he shot to death with a shotgun more than four years ago.
Ruling in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Bacon’s son Linwood Walker, the personal representative of her estate, Justice Jeffrey Hjelm determined that Reynolds, 57, of Brooks acted with “implied malice” when he shot Bacon as she entered his home on Sept. 29, 2004.
As penalty, Justice Hjelm assessed punitive damages of $50,000 and compensatory damages of $308,108.50. Included in the compensatory damages is the $8,108.50 it cost the estate for Bacon’s funeral. Pre-judgment interest on the penalty was set at 5.36 percent with post-judgment interest set at 6.4 percent. Reynolds also was held responsible for court costs.
An attempt to reach Reynolds’s attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor, was unsuccessful.
The jury-waived wrongful death case was heard by Justice Hjelm last July. He handed down his ruling in Waldo County Superior Court on Thursday.
A jury found Reynolds not guilty of murder when the matter came to trial in 2005. As was the case at both the criminal and subsequent civil trial, Reynolds freely admitted to shooting the 60-year-old Bacon with a 12-gauge shotgun when she stepped across his threshold.
Bacon was killed by a single shot moments after she forced her way into Reynolds’ Brooks home in search of his father, Jerome Reynolds Sr., with whom she had a relationship. She was shot in the face and died instantly. She was unarmed and wearing only a nightgown and slippers. Reynolds claimed he was frightened of her and feared for the safety of his father.
In his ruling, Justice Hjelm noted that because Reynolds admitted that he “intentionally and knowingly” killed Bacon, the central issue in the case was whether he was justified in “the intentional use” of deadly force against Bacon. Hjelm acknowledged that Bacon may have been the “initial aggressor by entering the home wrongfully,” but that did not justify Reynolds shooting her.
Hjelm stated that although Maine law permits the use of deadly force in self-defense, it does not extend that privilege to someone defending a third person.
At the time of her death, Bacon was living with Reynolds’ father at his home. The couple had had words earlier that day, which prompted the elder Reynolds to decide to spend the night at his son’s house.
Never did the elder Reynolds tell his son that he was concerned for his safety and he did not describe any abusive conduct by Bacon, Hjelm found. Reynolds Sr. “expressed frustration” about Bacon being mean to him and told his son that he “had had it.” The two men then proceeded to watch a Red Sox game on television, Hjelm noted. When Bacon forced her way into the home, Reynolds reached for his shotgun.
“Bacon was a 60-year-old woman who was unarmed,” Hjelm wrote. “She wore nothing other than a cotton nightgown and moccasins. The court cannot find that in such a defenseless and vulnerable situation, she would have defied a man with a shotgun.”
Hjelm found that the killing amounted to a “willful and reckless act,” and that Reynolds’ conduct “was not privileged or justified.” He noted that while Bacon made an “objective display of aggression” by entering the home without permission, “she was plainly unarmed and defenseless,” and that Reynolds was not “legally privileged” to shoot her. Hjelm noted that Reynolds had the right to physically force Bacon from his home but that he “exceeded his lawful privilege” at the moment he pulled the trigger.
“Although Bacon was wrongfully present inside the entryway of Reynolds’ house, his decision to kill her instead of using intermediate steps that would not involve a homicide was such an extraordinary overreaction that it amounts to implied malice,” Hjelm wrote. “It reveals a level of outrageousness, culpability and reprehensibility that exceeds recklessness.”