Grand Falls-Windsor — Testimony Wednesday in the trial of an American hunter charged in the shooting death of her husband came from the primary investigator of the case.
RCMP Cpl. Doug Hewitt, who was a constable with the general investigation section in Grand Falls-Windsor at the time of the incident on Sept. 14, 2006, said he was contacted at his residence at
9 o’clock on the night of the incident and told a woman had fatally shot her husband during a hunting trip near Buchans Junction.
Mary Beth Harshbarger, 45, of Mesphoppen, Pa., maintains she thought her husband, Mark Harshbarger, was a bear when she shot him during a hunting trip with their two children and Mark’s brother, Barry Harshbarger.
Hewitt said he arrived at the hunting lodge near Buchans Junction at approximately10:30 p.m. where Reg White, the owner of the lodge where the Harshbargers were staying during their trip to the area, and his brother Hayward White, gave him additional information.
He then said he went to the lodge and took a witness statement from Barry Harshbarger who, he said, was distraught at the time.
He added he also spoke briefly with Mary Beth Harshbarger.
“She appeared to be in shock at the time,” Hewitt said.
He said she wasn’t crying but, staring straight ahead, was able to respond to his questions.
Hewitt said at the outset it was approached as a sudden death investigation.
“It appeared to be a hunting accident from all accounts,” he said.
Hewitt said the following day he returned to the scene at approximately 10 a.m. and observed Mark Harshbarger’s body being removed.
Hewitt said he saw two sets of footprints which he took as Mark Harshbarger’s and the hunting guide Lambert Greene’s, but he didn’t see any other tracks — human or animal.
That afternoon, at a debriefing session after returning from the scene, Hewitt said the nature of the investigation was the same — Mary Beth Harshbarger shot what she said was a bear late in the evening, just before dusk.
Hewitt testified a phone call from the chief examiner’s office caused him to have several concerns leading him to request a re-enactment of the incident as soon as possible.
The first re-enactment took place Sept. 16 under what Hewitt said were clear blue skies — similar to those at the time of the incident.
When Greene indicated the lighting conditions were similar to when he heard the gun shot two days prior, an officer dressed in similar clothing and of similar size to Mark Harshbarger walked the path they thought Mark Harshbarger was walking.
Hewitt said he watched the re-enactment first with his naked eye, then through a rifle scope.
With his eye, Hewitt said all he could pick out was a dark shape.
“All I could see was a black mass,” he said. “It was so dark. I could not pick out what it was.”
He said even through the scope he could not pick out a definite shape or identify the object.
He said this gave some merit to Mary Beth Harshbarger’s version of events.
“It is plausible that she mistook this object to be a bear,” he said, adding he did question why a shot was fired in such dark conditions.
Hewitt said he decided to ask for a second re-enactment, which took place Sept. 13, 2007. He said with his naked eye he got the same result — he could not identify the object walking through the woods.
“My opinion at the time was it was too dark to be shooting a firearm,” Hewitt testified.
With the investigation ongoing, in September 2007, Hewitt said he felt a charge of criminal negligence causing death was applicable, and proceeded with the charge in the spring of 2008.
In May, Mary Beth Harshbarger was extradited from the United States to Newfoundland and Labrador to answer to the charges and is currently being tried in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in Grand Falls-Windsor.
If convicted, Harshbarger could be sentenced to a minimum of four years in prison.