Family weeps as video of hunting death scene shown at wife’s trial

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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Mary Beth Harshbarger — Canadian Press photo

GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR — Family members of a man who was shot by his wife on a hunting trip in central Newfoundland bowed their heads and wept as a video of the scene of his death was played in court on Monday.

They sat in the silent courtroom as the camera panned over a clearing in thick woods, then through reed grass along a deeply rutted logging trail to where 42-year-old Mark Harshbarger was shot on Sept. 14, 2006.

At the sight of her husband splayed on his back on the muddy ground, Mary Beth Harshbarger, 45, covered her face with her right hand and sobbed for the duration of the four-minute video.

RCMP Cpl. Don Eady had recorded the video the morning after Harshbarger was killed on a hunting trip near Buchans Junction.

The woman from Pennsylvania is being tried in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador on a single count of criminal negligence causing death. She has said she shot her husband after mistaking him for a bear as he emerged from the woods.

On the video, Mark Harshbarger was surrounded by reed grass and lay where his hunting guide had turned him over just after the shooting the night before.

Court has heard that the body was covered and left at the scene on the night of the shooting because it was late and dark. The shooting was also in a remote area and a search-and-rescue vehicle was needed to retrieve it.

A brief recess was taken after the video was shown as the victim’s father, brother, sister and other family members tried to gather themselves. The shooting has caused a split in the family and Mary Beth Harshbarger, fighting tears, gazed straight ahead as she was led past them out of the courtroom.

The pathologist who examined Harshbarger’s body told the court he died from a single gunshot through the abdomen.

Dr. Nash Denic said the bullet travelled right to left and downward, and its path suggests Harshbarger was leaning forward when he was shot.

Mary Beth Harshbarger was standing where a pickup truck was parked about 60 metres from her husband when she fired. The pathologist asked police to re-enact the shooting to assess lighting and other safety factors.

Police concluded from re-enactments done two days and another one year after the killing that it was too dark to identify what Harshbarger would have seen through her rifle scope.

Defence lawyer Karl Inder asked Denic what he learned from the re-enactments.

The pathologist said he viewed a videotape of the second re-enactment on Sept. 13, 2007, and spoke with lead RCMP investigator Doug Hewitt.

“I learned it was very low light conditions,” Denic said. “In fact, it was very dark.”

Police told him it was too dark at the estimated time the rifle was fired, about 7:55 p.m., to shoot, the pathologist said.

But he couldn’t recall if, like police, he ever said it was “plausible” that the accused had mistaken her husband for a bear.

The judge-alone trial is expected to continue through this week.

If convicted, Mary Beth Harshbarger faces a penalty of four years to a life term in prison.

Organizations: RCMP, Supreme Court

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Pennsylvania

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