Concord man charged with shooting gun in fight over loose bull cleared by jury
Merrimack County prosecutor George Waldron shows Michael Lassonde the shotgun that Lassonde says his half-brother, Brian Downs, aimed at his feet during a June, 2012 altercation during Downs's trial for reckless conduct at Merrimack County Superior Court; Monday, July 29, 2013. The two men were arguing over who was responsible for a bull getting loose.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
Brian Downs on trial for reckless conduct at Merrimack County Superior Court; Monday, July 29, 2013. Following a June, 2012 altercation with his half-brother, Michael Lassonde, Downs fired a shotgun, which Lassonds says was aimed at his feet.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
A Concord man accused of shooting at the ground near his brother’s feet during a fight over a bull loose in a neighbor’s vegetable patch was acquitted by a jury yesterday after saying he acted in self-defense.
On the stand in Merrimack County Superior Court, Brian Downs testified that his brother beat him up earlier that day in June 2012, pummeling him repeatedly and causing a goose-egg welt to form on his forehead. When the fight continued, Downs said he backed up for more than 100 feet as Michael Lassonde continued to advance, causing him to fire into the ground in hopes of scaring off his brother.
“He was just acting very crazy, irrational,” Downs said of Lassonde, who is his half-brother. “He was just yelling all kinds of crazy stuff. He was telling me that everything was my fault. That the bull getting out and everything that happened that day was all my fault and that he was going to make me pay. He was coming at me cracking his knuckles.”
The jury deliberated for an hour before finding Downs not guilty of criminal threatening and reckless conduct, charges that each carried a possible 3½- to seven-year prison sentence.
During the single-day trial, the group heard competing stories from the two brothers, who agreed that the fight over the lost bull began at Downs’s mobile home, continued to an intersection where their cars collided and ended at Lassonde’s Bog Road farm.
They disagreed on who was the aggressor each step of the way.
Downs said he went to Lassonde’s farm the day of the fight planning to target shoot and mow the lawn. On the door to the cabin, he saw a note from the police explaining that Lassonde’s bull had been loose and a neighbor had corralled it until Lassonde could retrieve it.
The fight erupted a few hours later at Downs’s Emperor Drive mobile home when Downs told his brother about the note, and a verbal altercation quickly turned physical. While Lassonde testified about a brief fight in which Downs threw the first punch and he returned one strong hit, Downs said his brother hit him repeatedly as he failed to protect himself. (Two officers testified yesterday they observed a large welt on Downs’s head but no injuries to Lassonde.)
Lassonde said he then went to leave the property and return to his home. But before he did, Lassonde threatened to kill Downs’s pigs, which were kept at the farm, Downs testified.
“I never said that,” Lassonde responded, when Downs’s attorney Mark Sisti raised the possibility that he made the threat. “In order to kill a pig, you need a gun. Which I don’t have. So why would I say that?”
“Have you killed one of his pigs before?” Sisti asked.
Lassonde laughed, then said he had.
‘This isn’t the Wild West’
After Lassonde left, Downs said he got in his car and planned to retrieve his lawn mower and gun from the farm if Lassonde was not there. But the two met again at the intersection of Fisherville and Bog roads, where Downs pulled up behind Lassonde.
There, the police say Downs rammed into his brother’s vehicle in an attempt to shove it into traffic. But Downs said yesterday that Lassonde actually put his car in reverse and backed into his vehicle.
Prosecutor George Waldron questioned yesterday why Downs didn’t just return home at that point.
“This is the person who is scared to death of (Lassonde),” Waldron told the jury. “He’s willing to risk getting beat up again for a lawn mower and a gun and three pigs that he’s admitted he couldn’t possibly transport in his Jeep? He goes there to confront Mr. Lassonde.”
But Downs said he didn’t realize his brother was home because Lassonde had taken a different trail leading back to the cabin on his sprawling Bog Road property. When he came out of the cabin with his items, Downs said Lassonde pulled up and began yelling at him.
Lassonde admitted yesterday that his brother never stepped toward him during the altercation and that he approached Downs, telling him to leave the property even after the first shot was fired.
“He was backing up all the time, wasn’t he?” Sisti asked.
“He was backing up with the shotgun,” Lassonde added.
The gun seemed to be the aggravating element for the police, too, who responded to Lassonde’s 911 call and filed criminal charges against Downs, not his brother. Concord police Officer Brian Cregg testified yesterday that Downs was the one who “brought a shotgun to an argument.”
“It’s not one person going forward, one person going backward. We also had one person holding a shotgun,” Cregg said.
Waldron said Downs followed his brother to the house and got the gun to get even.
“This isn’t the Wild West,” Waldron told the jury. “You don’t fire a weapon in the direction of a person out of anger for something that happened a half a mile away if you could have just as easily stayed where you were.”
Downs said yesterday that after he fired the third shell into the ground, Lassonde told him he was going to call the police to get him in trouble. Lassonde did call 911, and, according to Sisti, initially reported that Downs pointed the gun at his face, shot three shells into the ground and fled the scene.
Yesterday, Lassonde said Downs had also fired at least one shot into the sky, though officers said they found only three casings. Lassonde admitted on the stand his brother hadn’t pointed the gun at his face. And an officer who saw Downs leaving the property said he was traveling at a normal speed, not fleeing.
Sisti called Lassonde a liar and a bully who made things up to hide his own crimes against his brother.
Downs and Lassonde’s mother sat in the courtroom yesterday, behind the defense table, as did Downs’s father.
“This is really sad that it had to get this far,” John Downs said on his way out of the courthouse after his son was acquitted.
Lassonde did not stay after giving his testimony and was not there when the verdict was read.
This story has been updated.