Police testify in shooting case

Officers say farmer tidied up home after incident involving ex-worker

March 01, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

In the wake of what he says was the accidental firing of his shotgun, James J. Dasher tidied up the mess that had been made in his home.

He told police he swept up shotgun pellets that had sprayed across the fireplace, officers testified yesterday. He tossed the casings of spent shotgun shells - although he later said he couldn't remember where. And he dumped a piece of plywood that had been hit by the blast into a trash pit on his sprawling organic farm in northern Baltimore County.

"He was cleaning up," Officer Kyle Blackburn testified yesterday at Dasher's assault trial.

Dasher, 58, who owns the 100-acre Garden Harvest Farm in Worthington Valley, is accused of shooting at David L. Wonderlin, a carpenter and farmhand who cared for the nonprofit farm's goats and dog. Wonderlin, 39, also did odd jobs around the farm and worked with the volunteers who plan, tend and harvest the crops that feed the poor in Maryland, Appalachia and India.

In an opening statement to jurors, prosecutor William B. Bickel said that Dasher threatened to kill the man and chased him with a 12-gauge, double-barreled shotgun from the house that Dasher shared with his estranged wife. The prosecutor contends that Dasher accused Wonderlin of having an affair with his fiancee and fired two shots at him. Wonderlin was not injured.

The defense counters that the shooting was an accident and that Wonderlin made up his story to get money in a civil lawsuit he filed.

Defense attorney James G. Pyne told jurors that Dasher tripped on the shoelace of his boot and unintentionally discharged the weapon, which he had intended to give Wonderlin as a parting gift after he was let go. He also gave Wonderlin a 20-inch hunting knife at a meeting planned for the former employee to pick up a final paycheck.

The first officers to arrive at Garden Harvest that day in August 2005 testified yesterday that they spotted Dasher - his plaid shirt soaked with sweat - as he strolled down his long driveway toward their squad cars.

"Our heartbeats began to go up because we didn't know if he was the person who was shooting or what," said Officer Brandon Branham, who was dispatched to the farm on Mantua Mill Road after Wonderlin called 911 from his cell phone in the woods and cornfield into which he fled.

With their weapons drawn, police ordered Dasher onto the ground with his hands behind his back. He was, Branham testified, "very calm."

The testimony came on the second day of the trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court. The prosecution wrapped up its case yesterday afternoon. Dasher is expected to take the stand today as the defense presents its case.

Pyne, the defense attorney, spent yesterday morning trying to poke holes in the testimony of Wonderlin, who spent several hours on the witness stand between Tuesday and yesterday.

The lawyer focused on discrepancies in Wonderlin's trial testimony, statement to police and deposition in the civil suit.

Wonderlin testified that when he first spotted the shotgun barrel from the threshold of Dasher's kitchen, it "was staying stationary but had kind of a wobble to it, like it was being held."

He told the lawyers who questioned him last month for 5 1/2 hours for the civil suit that he had not gotten a good enough look at the shotgun to tell whether it was moving.

While the defense maintains that Dasher fired only the one unintentional shot, Wonderlin testified about a second shotgun blast that occurred outside as he was running toward the woods and cornfields. Under cross-examination, police said they did not find spent shell casings inside or outside the home.

Dasher's wife, Edie, initially told police that she heard two gunshots seconds apart, with one sounding closer than the other, while she was doing paperwork on the second floor of the farmhouse, according to charging documents.

She later indicated in a written statement to police that she was unsure whether there was one or two shots, according to the court documents. And although prosecutors subpoenaed her to testify at trial, she claimed spousal privilege and did not have to take the witness stand.

jennifer.mcmenamin @baltsun.com

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