Jesse Lewis’s lawyer didn’t mince words as he questioned his client in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Friday.
“Are you a hard case, Mr. Lewis?” Mark Gruchy asked the 21-year-old, who is on trial for shooting a 32-year-old man in Avondale in April last year, seriously injuring his leg.
“I’m not a church-goer or anything like that, but I wouldn’t consider myself a killer or a career criminal or anything,” Lewis replied.
When it was his turn to cross-examine Lewis, prosecutor Mike Murray presented Lewis’s lengthy criminal record, pointing out convictions for dangerous driving, failing to stop for police, uttering threats, mischief, breaching court orders and assault with a weapon — namely, a quad.
Lewis told Murray he was “famous for driving (offences),” not violent ones, and said it was fear that led him to shoot Bernard Mason.
Through a number of witnesses over the past week, the court has heard that Lewis and Mason had once been friends but were involved in a long-running dispute. Lewis had slept with Mason’s ex-girlfriend, which enraged Mason. Mason later slept with Lewis’s girlfriend, who was 17 at the time.
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Witnesses described Mason as a bully and a nuisance, a man who was alright sober but violent when he was drunk, and he had it in for Lewis.
On the night of April 21, 2017, Lewis’s then-girlfriend told the court, she was driving near the community when someone in a truck tried to run her off the road. Not knowing who it was, she pulled into a parking lot and saw it was Mason. He asked her to come to his house, she said, but she declined. She said she realized he was drunk and told him to go home before he got into trouble.
The woman had called Lewis from her car and told him what had happened. Lewis said he then hung up and called Mason.
“I said, what the f--- are you trying to do, run her off the road? What’s between me and you got nothing to do with her,” Lewis testified. “He said, ‘Do you want me to come over there and haul you out of the house?’ I hung up. I knew Bern and I had a feeling he was coming.”
Lewis said Mason had tried to attack him in the past, as recently as the previous night, an allegation corroborated on the stand by Lewis’s uncle. The two had been at Lewis’s father’s home playing darts in the basement with friends when Mason knocked at the door, telling Lewis’s uncle he was going to break Lewis’s legs. He reached in to try to grab Lewis, and asked the teenager’s uncle to push him outside so he could fight him. The uncle said Mason was still on the lawn when he went outside later in the evening.
After speaking with Mason on the phone, Lewis said, he went to his bedroom and got a gun from under his bed, a sawed-off shotgun he had gotten from a friend. When Mason was away for work, the gun was dismantled and kept in a friend’s attic, Lewis said, but when Mason was home, it was kept close at hand.
“What do you normally do when Bern Mason comes after you?” Gruchy asked Lewis on the stand.
“Run away, if I’ve got the option,” Lewis replied.
“Why did you have the gun?” Gruchy asked.
“I was petrified of Bern. I never had it to harm anybody. I had it in case he came to the door, so I could go out with it in my hand and he’d see it and screw off or whatever. It was a scare tactic.”
Murray questioned Lewis about why, if it was just a scare tactic, the gun was loaded.
“If it didn’t work (to scare Mason), I thought I would fire a shot in the air or something, to tell him I wasn’t f---ing around,” Lewis said.
Lewis said that when he looked out a window and saw Mason coming toward the house with his fists swinging, he got the gun.
Through testimony, the court heard Lewis’s girlfriend arrived at the home in time to see Mason go inside the home. She followed and attempted to calm him down, she said, and he grabbed her wrists at one point. He let go when she screamed that he was hurting her.
Mason reportedly then put his head through a kitchen cupboard, cutting himself in the process.
Lewis and the young woman told the court they had asked Mason multiple times to leave, but he refused.
“He was going crazy, he started jumping up and down, saying ‘Shoot me, shoot me or I’ll end this today,’” Lewis testified. “I was concerned that if he got his hands on me, it would be my last breath. He said he was going to kill me.”
Lewis and two male friends left the home through the front door, the court heard, while the woman attempted to block the doorway so Mason couldn’t follow. When he couldn’t get past her, he attempted to break through the wall, leaving behind damaged gyproc and blood.
When Mason got outside, he reportedly picked up a garbage can and threw it toward Lewis before falling or jumping down the steps.
“He ended up a few inches from me,” Lewis testified. “As he was trying to get up, he jumped at me. The gun went off.
“I was petrified and I’ll add that the gun was down by my side the whole time. At no point was it pointed at his head or his chest or anything.”
Lewis said once he realized Mason had been shot, he yelled to a neighbour to call an ambulance.
“I could see bones and his pants leg blown apart,” Lewis said. “There was a period of time where he just stared at me in silence and then he said, ‘You’re f---ing dead, you better get out of here before the cops come.’”
Lewis said he got into his girlfriend’s car with her and the two males and took off down the highway, ditching the gun on the side of the road somewhere near Colliers. They went as far as Terra Nova before turning back, and were eventually stopped by police, who used a spike belt near the Whitbourne turnoff.
Murray asked Lewis why he didn’t call the police when Mason arrived at the home looking to fight.
“It occurred to me, but it’s not in my nature to call the police,” Lewis said, adding he didn’t think police would have done anything to help him, given his criminal history and reputation in the community.
“Do you think that instead of being scared you could have been jealous or angry at Bern Mason?” Murray asked.
“Not a chance,” Lewis replied.
Murray suggested Lewis didn’t leave the home during the altercation because he was ready to use the gun instead.
Mason testified earlier in the week, but told the court he couldn’t remember much about the incident. He hadn’t entered Lewis’s home that night, he said, but was outside on the step when Lewis came outside and shot him.
He required two surgeries as a result of his injuries, and still has shotgun pellets embedded in his leg.
Murray and Gruchy have wrapped up their questioning and will present their closing submissions in the case on Wednesday.