A jury will not visit the site where a 23-year-old York County man is accused of accidentally shooting and killing a Grafton-area resident.
Brandon Bartlett is charged with involuntary manslaughter after police say he accidentally shot and killed David Ware, Jr., a 68-year-old who served on the James City County Board of Supervisors in the 1970s.
Bartlett was charged with second-degree murder after the Dec. 19, 2014 incident; the charge was reduced in July 2015, according to an October 2015 Daily Press article.
Ware’s body was found with an unfired shotgun in the marsh reeds behind Bartlett’s home on the 1900 block of Lakeside Drive.
At the time, neighbors told investigators Ware was hunting a fox that had been killing chickens in the area. Bartlett told police he thought Ware was a deer.
Investigators believe Bartlett fired a 12-gauge shotgun into the reeds once. Fifteen pellets came out and eight hit Ware, said Commonwealth’s Attorney Ben Hahn.
Hahn asked York-Poquoson Circuit Court Judge Richard Rizk to rule in favor of a site viewing, saying it would give the jury perspective on the residential nature of the area.
“If a picture is worth 1,000 words, the jury going and seeing the scene is worth a million words,” Hahn said.
Rizk ruled against the site viewing on Monday, saying he believes taking the jury to the scene may create prejudice against Bartlett.
“The conditions are going to clearly be different than the day of the shooting,” Rizk said, adding that taking pictures and video of the scene would be a better way for the prosecution to provide context without creating prejudice.
Rizk said he would revisit the issue of a site viewing if Hahn is denied access to the property, which belongs to Bartlett’s parents.
Defense Attorney Lawrence Woodward said the prosecution can take pictures and video on the property, although he wants to review them before they are entered into evidence.
It’s still unclear if the judge will allow a game warden from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to testify as an expert witness on hunting safety during the three-day jury trial, which is scheduled to begin on March 2.
Hahn said the witness would be a person who teaches hunting safety classes.
Woodward argued that a game warden would be an irrelevant witness because Bartlett has never taken a hunting safety course and did not fire his gun in a no-hunting zone.
“(The prosecution) has no evidence that (Bartlett) attended any such course, and it is not legally required. This is a lawful act manslaughter case. The only question is his mindset,” at the time of the shooting, Woodward said.
Hunter education is only mandatory for people 16 years old and younger who are hunting alone, according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ website.
Rizk said he will wait until the trial to rule on expert witnesses.
“This may become an issue during the course of the trial,” Rizk said. “The court is not going to preclude either side from calling experts.”
Information for this article was taken from the Daily Press archives.
Mayfield can be reached at 757-298-5828.