A freak hunting accident earlier this year is now being attributed to defective shotgun shells.
Timmy Johnson didn’t mean to shoot Danny Marks Jr. last January.
After an investigation, however, he was charged with three counts of reckless handling of a firearm and shooting across a public road in a near fatal incident that has divided what once was a close-knit friendship.
Although Richmond County’s General District Court decided last Friday that Johnson was innocent of all but the shooting across the road allegation, the real damage was apparent after witnesses reported that many of the attendees audibly vocalized their anger over the verdict as they left the courtroom.
On Jan. 3, Johnson, a Tappahannock police officer, was off-duty and hunting on a tract of land off Sharps Road near Beaverdam when he spotted a deer.
According to authorities, with the prey in his sights, Johnson took aim and fired.
By an unimaginable coincidence, Johnson’s long-time friend, Marks, an Essex County deputy, happened to be driving by the deer’s passage at the same time.
Marks and Johnson had strong ties, both having worked at one time at the Richmond County Sheriff’s office, the Tappahannock Police Department and having partnered together on multiple off-duty cooperative efforts
Shots hit Marks in the head and he wrecked his vehicle after being struck. He was seriously injured in the accident.
After the trial, Johnson’s defense attorney, Patrick O’Brien, said that the road was “sunken” beneath the level of the field in which Johnson was at and that the field had a hedge along the edge near the road. Johnson couldn’t see the road, O’Brien said.
Two friends of Johnson were hunting with him and appeared as witnesses for the commonwealth, but, O’Brian said their testimony on cross examination aided the defense.
Both testified that Johnson was shooting at a downward angle as the deer ran across the field, which created a mystery about how Johnson’s pellets reached Marks’ vehicle.
O’Brian, however, had obtained evidence that the 3 1/2 inch 12 gauge shotgun shells Johnson was using were defective and, in fact, had been recalled by Remington in December. The defect may have caused the pellets to fly erratically so as to go upward rather than in the direction Johnson was aiming.
Judge James C. Mathews of Norfolk heard the case because both Johnson and Marks are local law enforcement officers known to local judges. He dismissed two of the reckless handling charges on O’Brian’s motion to strike the evidence at the close of the Commonwealth’s case. O’Brian said that no pellets were found near a house Johnson was accused of firing at, nor was there any of a second vehicle he allegedly fired towards. On the charge involving shooting Marks, Judge Mathews found Johnson not guilty.
Mathews did find Johnson guilty of shooting across a road and fined him $250.