Mary Beth Harshbarger is escorted from court in Grand Falls-Windsor today. — Photo by Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press
GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR — A guide says a Pennsylvania woman who shot and killed her husband asked the two men if they were going to “flush” an animal from the woods to where she was positioned with her rifle during a hunting trip four years ago to central Newfoundland.
Mary Beth Harshbarger, 45, who says she thought she was firing at a black bear near Buchans Junction when she shot her husband, faces one count of criminal negligence causing death in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Guide Lambert Greene testified at the start of her trial Monday before Justice Richard LeBlanc that he and Mark Harshbarger were making their way back from the brush toward Greene’s pickup truck when the shot was fired.
“Mark proceeded on toward the truck. Then I heard a shot. After the shot, I heard a loud scream,” he testified.
“I figured they were after shooting a moose or a bear.”
But as Greene kept walking, he said he soon reached Mark lying face down on the ground, his coveralls stained with blood.
Greene reddened and paused to collect himself as he described turning Mark over and checking for vital signs.
“There was no sign of life. I got up and I looked towards the truck. Mary Beth was standing up by the side of the truck then. I called out: ’Did you shoot your rifle?’ And she said: ’Yes.’
“I said: ’What did you shoot at?’
“She said: ’I shot at a bear. Did I get him?’ I said: ’No. You got Mark.’ ”
Until then, the day of hunting had been uneventful, said Greene, who wasn’t sure of the exact time the shot was fired but testified it was shortly after sunset.
When he told Mary Beth Harshbarger that her husband was dead, Greene said she became “hysterical.”
“She danced around the road. ’I shot my husband. I shot my love.’ ”
Mark Harshbarger died Sept. 14, 2006, a few weeks shy of his 43rd birthday.
Greene said he understood as he and Mark Harshbarger left her at the pickup truck with the couple’s two small children that she would shoot an animal if one ran from the woods. She also asked if they were going to “flush” an animal out.
He also confirmed that he and Mark Harshbarger were not wearing orange safety vests or hats.
Harshbarger sipped water, looked down and wiped her eyes as Greene testified.
Mark’s father, Lee Harshbarger, dabbed his eyes with tissue during the testimony as his companion, Carol, clutched his hand.
Greene testified that he saw no bear or other animal in the area.
As he came out of the brush where Mark fell, there was an expanse of waist-high grass between him and the truck where Mary Beth Harshbarger stood, he said.
Under cross-examination, Harshbarger’s defence lawyer Karl Inder asked Greene if he knew where the scream had come from.
“I don’t know,” Greene said.
Inder asked the guide of eight years whether the scream could have come from a wounded bear.
Greene said he could not be sure what made the sound just after the shot rang out.
The RCMP staged two re-enactments of events two days after the shooting and one year later. Officers concluded it was too dark to safely fire a rifle and that it’s plausible Harshbarger thought she was looking at a bear, according to U.S. District Court extradition documents.
“It’s not impossible,” that Mary Beth Harshbarger mistook her husband for a bear, Greene said.
Asked about the RCMP re-enactments, Greene said an officer wearing dark clothing as he walked through the woods appeared through a rifle scope from the pickup truck site like “a dark object, bobbing up and down.”
At the time he was shot, Mark Harshbarger was walking along the rough and rocky track made by a skidder, a piece of logging machinery used to haul logs from the woods, Greene said.
“You’ve usually got your head down and you’re looking for the best place to step.”
“Some bears stand on their hind legs,” said Greene, who has hunted other animals for 30 years but is not an experienced bear hunter.
Crown Attorney Karen O’Reilly asked him what he would have done if he’d seen something similar through a rifle scope.
“If I’m not sure of my target, I wouldn’t have shot,” Greene replied.
If convicted, Harshbarger faces a penalty of four years to life in prison.
Lee Harshbarger recalled in an interview how Mark wanted to visit Newfoundland every year to hunt after his father brought back “a nice bull moose” in 1997. He fondly described his son as about six-foot-two and 215 pounds, the youngest of his five children.
“We hunted, we fished, we camped. And if ever I needed help with anything I would give him a call and he was always there. He would drop what he was doing and come and help me.”
Mark’s death “was the worst thing that ever happened to me in my 77 years,” he said.
“I do think about him many times. I just can’t understand how something like this could happen where a man could be mistaken for a bear. A man walks in an upright position. A bear walks on all fours.”