A Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court judge has acquitted an Avondale man of shooting an intruder in his home, and is questioning why the RCMP didn’t lay charges against the man who was shot.
Jesse Lewis, 21, was acquitted of charges of aggravated assault, discharging a firearm, careless use of a firearm, pointing a firearm and possessing a weapon dangerous to the public, laid in April last year in connection with the shooting of 33-year-old Bernard Mason.
Through witness testimony at Lewis’s trial, the court heard Lewis and Mason had a longstanding feud that had escalated after they had sexual relationships with each other’s girlfriends.
Mason had gone to Lewis’s house the night before the shooting, looking to fight with him, but was turned away at the door by Lewis’s uncle.
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The next evening, witnesses say, he attempted to run Lewis’s girlfriend off the road before turning up at Lewis’s house in a drunken rage, threatening to “finish this once and for all.” Lewis saw him coming and took a sawed-off shotgun, which he kept for protection when Mason was around, out from under his bed.
Mason barged into the home, finding Lewis, his girlfriend and two other males in the kitchen. He grabbed the teenage girl by the wrists, smashed his head through a cupboard and damaged a wall by attempting to crash through it to get to Lewis, who had left the home.
Once outside, the court heard, Mason had attempted to attack Lewis when he was shot.
“Mason’s intrusion had elements of a home invasion,” Justice Alphonus Faour said in bringing down his verdict. “Lewis’s role in this whole incident was in response to Mason’s actions.”
The judge acknowledged Lewis had a weapon, saying there was no evidence he had pointed it at Mason, and added that while Mason didn’t have one, “given his reputation, his intoxication, and his strength compared to the others, you could say his body was a weapon.”
“I’m also of the view that the evidence discloses the likelihood of serious injuries to Lewis if Mason had made contact with him,” the judge continued. “I find that Lewis had no option but to use the means at his disposal to protect himself.
“It was Mason’s persistence in attacking Lewis that led to the gunshot. Mason was the author of his own misfortune.”
Mason told the court at trial he had required two surgeries on his knee due to the shooting, and shotgun pellets continue to push through his skin every now and then.
Faour rejected Crown prosecutor Mike Murray’s suggestion that Lewis planned to shoot Mason and did it deliberately. He also countered Murray’s suggestion that Lewis could have called police instead of taking matters into his own hands.
When asked that question at trial, Lewis told the court he didn’t call the local RCMP because he didn’t think they would do anything to help him, since he has a reputation for being a troublemaker in his home community.
“I’d assume they’d treat me like I was a gangster and do nothing at all,” Lewis said of the RCMP.
Faour decided Lewis had a point, noting that while police were aware of Mason’s conduct the day of the shooting, they didn’t appear to do anything about it.
“There certainly was evidence of criminal offences on the part of Mason, including offence related to home invasion, damage to property, uttering threats, assaulting (the teenage girl), and impaired driving,” the judge said. “It was strange to me that there was no investigation of these actions to determine whether criminal charges would have been appropriate.
“Mr. Lewis said in response to the Crown’s question as to why he didn’t call police instead of taking action himself that he didn’t think police would take him seriously. The police response to the evidence about Mason’s activities would indicate that perhaps Mr. Lewis had a point.”
Lewis, who has been in custody since his arrest a year ago, wasn’t cleared of all charges related to the shooting. Faour convicted him on charges of driving while disqualified and breaching court orders after he fled the scene with his girlfriend and the two other males and was caught driving the getaway vehicle by surveillance video at a gas station. Police eventually stopped the car near the Whitbourne turnoff using a spike belt.
Lewis asked to be released from custody to await his sentencing hearing on those charges, saying he wanted no contact with Mason and wanted to move in with his father in Ontario and find work. Faour agreed.
“You’ve gotten in trouble before and I encourage you to try and turn things around. You’ve gotten a bit of a break today,” the judge told Lewis. “I hope that gun’s disposed of immediately.”
After the verdict, Lewis’s lawyer, Mark Gruchy, told The Telegram he felt the case was a clear matter of self-defence, and said he still doesn’t understand why Mason was not charged as a result of his actions the day he was shot.
“The simple reality of the case is Jesse Lewis was the victim,” Gruchy said. “He was a victim of a serious, home invasion-style assault. Yet it was he who stood trial while Mr. Mason was charged with nothing.
“I am sincerely unsure what was going on out in Avondale in this case. I cannot make sense of it.”