Published May 18, 2010, 05:00 PM

Woman who shot husband on Canada hunting trip has one charge dropped

A Pennsylvania woman accused of killing her husband on a Newfoundland hunting trip in 2006 had one charge against her dropped in court today. Harshbarger has said she thought her husband Mark was a bear when she shot him. She is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday for a bail hearing.

By: Sue Bailey, Associated Press

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A Pennsylvania woman accused of killing her husband on a Newfoundland hunting trip in 2006 had one charge against her dropped in court today.

Mary Beth Harshbarger, 44, appeared in Grand Falls-Windsor provincial court on a charge of criminal negligence causing death. A charge of careless use of a firearm was dropped.

Harshbarger has said she thought her husband Mark was a bear when she shot him. She is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday for a bail hearing.

Harshbarger was extradited from the U.S. for the court appearance in Grand Falls-Windsor, which is about a four-hour drive northwest of St. John's.

Crown attorney Karen O'Reilly said the extradition was based on one charge of criminal negligence causing death.

"The extradition proceedings determined that she was only to be extradited on the first charge, so we're not able to prosecute her on the second charge," she said in an interview.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police did not issue a warrant for Harshbarger's arrest until April 30, 2008.

Mark Harshbarger died Sept. 14, 2006, a few weeks shy of his 43rd birthday. He had taken with his wife and their young son and daughter to Buchans Junction in central Newfoundland.

Leonard Harshbarger says he will be waiting in the United States for updates as his estranged daughter-in-law appears in court for the bail hearing.

"I plan to come up to Newfoundland if there is a trial," Leonard, 76, said from his home in Sweet Valley, Pa.

His father describes Mark as about six-foot-two and 215 pounds. Mark worked as a company estimator assessing the cost of development projects. He was the youngest of five children and spent a lot of time with his father after his mom died in 1995.

Mary Beth Harshbarger told police that it was dusk and she thought her husband was a bear emerging from the darkened woods. The sun had set about 25 minutes before she fired the deadly shot.

She described what she saw through her rifle scope as a "big black thing."

Harshbarger also stated she was preoccupied with the couple's young son and daughter who were in a pickup truck parked about 60 metres from where their father was killed.

Harshbarger sued two life insurance companies in 2008 to collect benefits worth about $550,000. A Pennsylvania state law blocks payment in cases of intentional wrongdoing.

U.S. attorney Robert Murphy represented Harshbarger during the civil action.

"The court made a specific finding that she had committed no willful act," he said, adding that the state law in question "did not apply to a hunting accident."

Harshbarger won't have to pay that money back even if she is convicted of criminal negligence, Murphy said.

"It's irrelevant to the civil decision," he explained. "The case is closed."

RCMP staged two re-enactments of the events two days after the shooting and one year later. Officers concluded it was too dark to safely fire a rifle and that it's plausible Harshbarger thought she was looking at a bear, according to U.S. District Court extradition documents.

Her husband was wearing dark clothing and no orange-coloured safety gear.

Harshbarger didn't speak during today's court proceedings and O'Reilly said the appearance in provincial court before Judge Timothy Chalker was over in a matter of minutes.

"It was long enough for the judge to read the charges, for me to tell the judge that because of the extradition process we couldn't prosecute the second charge so it was being withdrawn, that it is a straight indictable matter, and we were opposed to her release so we were looking for a bail hearing."

Criminal negligence causing death with a firearm carries a penalty of four years to a life term in prison.

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