BELFAST, Maine — Luke Bryant took the stand in his own defense against a manslaughter charge Thursday in Waldo County Superior Court, maintaining that a videotaped explanation of how he shot and killed his best friend was a lie told to end a long interview with police.
Bryant testified for about half an hour, both as defense attorney Steve Peterson’s only witness and then during cross-examination by Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea. Both the prosecution and defense rested their cases. The jury is expected to get the case Friday after closing arguments.
Bryant, 20, maintained during his testimony that he was “clearing,” or opening the 12-gauge shotgun in preparation of cleaning and loading it for use the next day, when it fired into Tyler Seaney’s neck, killing him almost instantaneously.
But during a three-and-a-half hour videotaped interview with police, which was played for jurors Thursday morning and afternoon, Bryant admitted that he was playing a game he and Seaney had engaged in which one would startle the other by pointing a gun at him and pulling the trigger of an unloaded weapon.
“We basically would try to scare each other once in a while,” Bryant told Peterson. “It was just joking around.”
Asked how the two men, who had been friends since attending middle school in Belfast together, knew the weapons were unloaded before pulling the trigger, Bryant said, “We always check first.”
When Seaney, who was 19 on Feb. 19, 2011, when he was shot, would point a gun at Bryant, Bryant said he never feared for his life. “I trusted him,” he said.
Bryant, Seaney and Seaney’s girlfriend, Whitney Canfield had spent the previous night at Bryant’s apartment in a house in Knox, his father, Malcolm Bryant owned. That Saturday afternoon, the three were preparing for a trip to Belfast to possibly see a movie.
Seaney went into the bathroom, which is off the kitchen, as the three got ready for the evening.
Bryant testified that he and Seaney planned to shoot some of the guns Bryant owned on Sunday. In preparation, Bryant removed the guns from a closet, along with cleaning tools and ammunition, he said. Seaney remained in the bathroom as Bryant completed the task, he said.
“I cleared two of the weapons and set them on the floor,” Bryant said, answering his attorney’s questions. Those guns were a .22-caliber rifle and a 30-06 caliber rifle. Neither weapon was loaded, he said.
He then turned to the shotgun.
“I went over and picked it up and began to clear it,” he said. “When I picked it up, I noticed the slide was locked.” Bryant later explained that he and Seaney had modified the weapon almost two months earlier so that it could be shot from the waist instead of from the shoulder.
“At that time,” Bryant said, as he was working the slide, “Tyler walked out of the bathroom.” His friend began to speak, the weapon discharged, and Seaney, standing about 5-feet away, fell to the floor, Bryant said.
Asked pointedly by Peterson if he was playing what had been referred to earlier in the trial as the “scare game,” Bryant said, “No, I was not.” He said he did not know how his finger pulled the trigger, and did not know the gun was loaded.
Bryant confirmed what Whitney, Seaney’s girlfriend, had testified to earlier in the trial, that the .22-caliber rifle had accidentally discharged a week earlier when Bryant picked it up when the men were in a treehouse on the property.
Under cross-examination by Zainea, Bryant admitted that he had sat on the couch in the living room to clear the other two guns, but stood in the kitchen, some 3- to 4-feet from the bathroom door, to clear the shotgun.
Asked why he didn’t return to the couch to clear the shotgun, Bryant’s answer was terse: “No need to.” Asked again, he said, “There was no need to go back there.”
Bryant also admitted that he “didn’t think to” point the weapon away from the door, even though he testified earlier that he knew weapons should be pointed away from where they could hurt someone if they discharged accidentally.
Asked by Zainea why he didn’t point the weapon away from the bathroom door, Bryant said, “I was focusing on what [Seaney] was trying to say.”
Bryant maintained that his admission to police that he was playing at scaring his friend by pointing the weapon at him was a lie. He also said his admission to police that Seaney had, earlier in the day, pretended to shoot Bryant with a pellet gun was a fabrication.
Asked by Zainea why he had lied, Bryant said, “I was very worn down, emotionally,” and “I wanted to get out of there and I figured that was the quickest way to end it.”
Before Bryant’s testimony, Maine State Police Detective Jason Andrews testified that during the interview with Bryant, which Bryant attended willingly, he told the man he could leave at any time.