Shave found guilty of involuntary manslaughter
TOWANDA - A Litchfield Township man accused of fatally shooting his wife at their home in 2010 was found guilty of one of six charges against him Tuesday in Bradford County Court.
Judge Jeffrey Smith found Stephen Shave, 40, guilty of involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree misdemeanor, in the Dec. 2010 shooting death of Tara Shave following a final day of testimony. Shave was found not guilty of criminal homicide, first- and third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter by provocation and aggravated assault in the non-jury trial.
Shave's attorneys asserted that Shave accidentally shot his wife as he attempted to put away a 30-06 caliber rifle he had used for hunting four days prior to the incident. Testimony suggested that Shave believed the rifle to be unloaded, while the prosecution argued that Shave had intentionally loaded the rifle and shot Tara Shave.
The decision followed a morning hearing to determine whether a mistrial should be declared amid allegations of evidence tampering, during which the defense called up lifelong firearms users Gregory Ferro and Andy Solock of Sayre. Solock said he viewed the several types of bullets admitted into evidence during a trip to the state police barracks in Towanda with defense attorneys Arthur Agnellino and Joseph Joch and forensic pathologist Dr. John Shane.
The defense claimed that bullets they said were originally part of the collection admitted into evidence were either lost or intentionally tampered with by state police. However, Smith denied a motion to declare a mistrial, saying testimony did not convince him the bullets were ever part of evidence in the case.
Several firearms experts called up Tuesday testified that the reloaded cartridges Shave used may have stuck inside the barrel of the rifle, possibly causing the gun to malfunction.
In the defense's closing statement, Joch said Shave's inexperience, combined with his use of a "cheap" gun and the use of reloaded cartridges resized to fit the rifle, increased the firearm's chances of working improperly.
The gun sat vertically in the couple's living room for four days after Shave used it on a hunting trip, Joch said. In a hurry to put it away, Shave foolishly ignored gun safety rules, he argued, calling the incident a product of "ordinary negligence."
Shave was arrested on suspicion of his wife's death in May 2011, five months after Tara Shave was killed, Joch said. In addition, following the death, state police interrogated Shave for seven hours and were not able to get a firm admission of a crime from him. Shave could not come to grips with what had happened at the time, he said.
County district attorney Dan Barrett, meanwhile, argued that Shave's negligence of firearm safety added up to the "illegal and wanton disregard" that would apply to a charge of third-degree murder.
Shave illegally and unsafely hunted, kept a loaded firearm in a vehicle following the trip, shot a deer after dark and then forgot the gun was loaded, Barrett said in his closing statement Tuesday. In addition, he did not check the gun to ensure it was clear of ammunition prior to putting it away the day Tara Shave was killed. Finally, Barrett said, Shave pointed it toward his wife and pulled the trigger, violating the most important gun safety rule of all, he said - "don't point a gun at anyone."
Following his reading of the verdict, Judge Smith said Shave's disregard of gun safety was borne of ignorance. Any evidence of a motive in the shooting was absent during testimony, he said.
The prosecution, which has the burden of proof, failed to demonstrate ill will or malice on Shave's part and failed to prove Shave knew the rifle was loaded at the time of the shooting, Smith said.
"The defendant, by all counts, did not use appropriate means in caring for his rifle and his ammunition," Smith said. However, there was no testimony regarding whether Shave's hunting friends, who carried his gun back to the car when he was hunting after he had shot a deer, checked to see whether the gun was clear before placing it in Shave's vehicle, and could not prove whether the gun was intentionally loaded before Shave shot his wife a few days later.
Shave immediately called 911 for help following the shooting, urged the operator to send emergency help immediately and performed CPR on his wife. He also did not aim for any of his wife's vital organs - the bullet traveled through Tara Shave's arm and torso before exiting through the other arm - and attempted to keep the one eyewitness alive, actions inconsistent with that of someone with the intent to kill, Smith said.
"His actions and emotions afterward were consistent with someone who accidentally has taken the life of his wife," Smith said.
Following Smith's remarks, Shave's counsel, Arthur Agnellino, requested that Shave, who has been incarcerated in the Bradford County Correctional Facility since his May 2011 arrest, be released on his own recognizance. Shave would stay with family members present at Tuesday's proceedings, Agnellino said.
However, Smith denied that motion without prejudice, saying that firm arrangements had not been provided to the court and the timing of the decision was inappropriate. Barrett said he would not object to entertaining the possibility of Shave's release at a later date.
Shave's sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 6.
Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.