A young Knox County man was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of his best friends. The State argued that Mr. Bryant’s actions constituted reckless conduct and were a gross departure from normal behavior. Mr. Bryant contended that the shooting was an accident and that it happened while he was attempting to unload a firearm when it discharged, killing his best friend.
While this case is tragic, it serves to illustrate the legal distinction between crimes of intent and crimes of recklessness. These are states of mind and the State bears the burden of proving the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. The difference between murder and manslaughter in Maine is the state of mind of the defendant. When it person intends to cause the death of another human being, that action constitutes murder. However, when a person dies as the result of accidental conduct by another and that conduct is considered reckless, the crime is manslaughter. While murder is punishable by up to life imprisonment, manslaughter is punishable by no more than 30 years imprisonment.
Why is manslaughter considered to be “less serious” than murder? It’s because the state of mind of the defendant wasn’t intentional. It was reckless, and recklessness is defined as a conscientious disregard for the consequences of one’s actions. Oftentimes, we see manslaughter charges arising from drunk driving charges involving death or where someone is accidentally shot and killed during a hunting incident. It is much more rare to see a manslaughter charge stem from a person who was allegedly unloading his firearm.
While I didn’t follow this trial particularly closely, it is clear that the jury didn’t believe that the discharge of the firearm was a mere tragic accident and instead, chose to believe that Mr. Bryant’s actions were reckless. There was evidence in this case that the victim and Mr. Bryant often would point firearms at each other and “fire” the weapon, knowing there was no ammo in the weapon.
It would appear that there was more than enough evidence to secure a conviction. Unfortunately for this young man, his family and the family of his best friend, no punishment can bring the victim back from the grave and quite possibly, no punishment meted out by the court will be worse than Mr. Bryan’t’s own conscience and memory of what happened. He is the one that has to live the rest of his days with the reality that he killed his best friend.
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