One charge against Harshbarger dropped

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Bail hearing today for woman accused in husband's shooting death

Mary Beth Harshbarger fought for two years not to have to face charges in a Canadian court for her husband's shooting death.

On Tuesday, she had nothing to say as she made her first appearance at provincial court in Grand Falls-Windsor.

For the family of her late husband, who was fatally shot during a hunting expedition near Buchans Junction in 2006, that day was a long time coming.

Mary Beth Harshbarger is escorted into provincial court in Grand Falls-Windsor Tuesday morning for her first court appearance after being extradited from Meshoppen, Pa., in relation to the shooting death of her husband, Mark Harshbarger. - Photo by David

Grand Falls-Windsor -

Mary Beth Harshbarger fought for two years not to have to face charges in a Canadian court for her husband's shooting death.

On Tuesday, she had nothing to say as she made her first appearance at provincial court in Grand Falls-Windsor.

For the family of her late husband, who was fatally shot during a hunting expedition near Buchans Junction in 2006, that day was a long time coming.

"This whole thing has been a real nightmare, and very hard on Dad," Mark Harshbarger's brother, Dean, wrote via e-mail to The Advertiser recently.

The family has maintained 42-year-old Mark was shot intentionally and they're glad progress is being made in the case.

Mary Beth had appealed extradition orders to Canada several times.

Finally, the U.S. courts approved the extradition and she surrendered to U.S. marshals.

The RCMP took her into custody in Pennsylvania, and accompanied her to Gander in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

She is scheduled to have a bail hearing today.

Mary Beth has maintained she mistook her husband for a bear during a hunting trip.

Mark died Sept. 14, 2006.

He and Mary Beth had brought their young son and daughter with them to Buchans Junction, where the couple intended to hunt black bear.

The shooting happened in the early evening, and Mark was wearing dark clothing instead of the recommended hunter's orange.

Mary Beth Harshbarger told police it was dusk and she thought her husband was a bear emerging from the darkened woods.

The sun had set about 25 minutes before she fired the deadly shot.

She described what she saw through her rifle scope as a "big black thing."

Harshbarger also stated she was preoccupied with the couple's young son and daughter who were in a pickup truck parked about 60 metres from where their father was killed.

As part of their investigation into Mark's death, RCMP officers re-enacted the incident and said it had been too dark to hunt safely at the time Mark was killed.

The Harshbargers were reportedly experienced hunters.

One officer said it was plausible that Mary Beth thought she was looking at a bear, but based on his observations and hunting experience, he would not have taken a shot as it was too dark.

Harshbarger sued two life insurance companies in 2008 to collect benefits worth about US$550,000. A Pennsylvania state law blocks payment in cases of intentional wrongdoing. U.S. attorney Robert Murphy represented Harshbarger during the civil action.

"The court made a specific finding that she had committed no wilful act," he said, adding that the state law in question "did not apply to a hunting accident."

Harshbarger won't have to pay that money back even if she is convicted of criminal negligence, Murphy said.

"It's irrelevant to the civil decision," he explained. "The case is closed."

Mary Beth, who is 44 and from Meshoppen, Pa., initially faced charges of criminal negligence causing death and careless use of a firearm, but the Crown withdrew the latter charge Tuesday.

Crown prosecutor Karen O'Reilly said the American courts decided that they received information after their statute of limitations on that charge had lapsed.

Harshbarger didn't speak during Tuesday's court proceedings and O'Reilly said the appearance in provincial court before Judge Timothy Chalker was over in a matter of minutes.

"It was long enough for the judge to read the charges, for me to tell the judge that because of the extradition process we couldn't prosecute the second charge so it was being withdrawn, that it is a straight indictable matter, and we were opposed to her release so we were looking for a bail hearing."

Criminal negligence causing death with a firearm carries a penalty of four years to a life term in prison.

Organizations: RCMP

Geographic location: U.S., Buchans Junction, Grand Falls Pennsylvania Grand Falls-Windsor Canada Gander Meshoppen

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