Homeowner fired one gunshot

The shooting death of Harryton (also known as Harrington) Rivers on 22 July, 2010, was ruled misadventure by a jury that heard evidence for two days earlier this month. 

Mr. Rivers, 29, was shot at approximately 2am at a residence on Liguinea Circle, George Town. His own residence was in Prospect, where police later found an electronic monitoring device he should have been wearing while on bail. 

The pathologist’s report indicated that Mr. Rivers died from loss of blood as the result of a single gunshot wound to the abdomen. 

Queen’s Coroner Kirsty-Ann Gunn called as the first witness the owner of the premises where the shooting took place. He was Leon Herbert Bowen, now 68. He told the court he was a member of the Gun Club and the holder of a firearm licence.  

On the night of the incident he and his wife were asleep when he was awakened by a loud banging noise. He checked the back porch, which was enclosed, but didn’t see anything that could have made a noise. His wife joined him and they looked around the house. Not seeing anything, they opened the side door to the garage and checked the car, which was secure. 

Mr. Bowen said he and his wife went back to bed and then he heard a big noise again. He jumped out of bed, got the key to his gun case, took out the gun and loaded it. He opened the door to the back porch and saw the blinds pushed up on a window near the back door. There was a man partly in the window stretching his hand to open the door. “I shouted at him, ‘What you doing in my house?’ 

“During that time I had my gun in my right hand,” Mr. Bowen continued. “He turned toward me. He has a shiny object he moves toward me. During that time I was terrified. I wanted to stop him from coming towards me with his hand reached out. I fire one shot. I was terrified he was going to harm me. I was defending myself and my wife. He stumbled back through the window and shout out, ‘The man shoot me, he shoot me.’” 

Mr. Bowen said he ran back to his bedroom after seeing the man go around the house. He drew the drape to the back window and saw a man standing in the yard next door; he had on a mask covering his face. Mr. Bowen said his wife was too nervous to call 911, so he made the call.  

In response to jurors’ questions, he said he did not know what the shiny object was, but when the man turned towards him and reached out his hand, that was when he saw the shiny object and fired one shot. He said he did not aim, he just fired in the general direction. The man was not wearing a mask and he did not come completely inside, but he was part way in when he turned with the shiny object.  

I’m sorry that he died,” Mr. Bowen told the court. “I didn’t want to kill him. I wanted to stop him.” 

Officers responding to the 911 call found Mr. Rivers lying near the fence. One officer found a black-handled knife in the yard. 

Jurors saw a series of photographs showing the interior and exterior of the house. Most of the windows had hurricane shutters on them, but some were unshuttered to let light in. The window by the back door was partly shuttered. The window was a wind-out style; the two lower louvres were damaged and the screen was cut. The distance between the side of the window and the door jamb was eight inches. 

The damaged section of the window would have created a space large enough for a person of slim build to get through, Constable Paul Innis told the court. The pathologist’s report described Mr. Rivers as six feet tall, weighing 144 pounds. 

The coroner read a statement from Chief Inspector Peter Kennett, now retired. He said he spoke with Mr. Rivers’ father and brother, who were of the opinion that he had been shot in the back a number of times and there was some sort of police cover-up. Mr. Kennett reported that they viewed the body and identified it. They were shown the entry wound and an X-ray that clearly depicted the bullet still inside the body. 

Mr. Kennett said they slurred the police investigation and he assured them that was neither the time nor the place for such remarks and they should take legal advice or make a formal complaint. 

The autopsy report, prepared by Dr. Bruce Hyma and explained to the jury by Dr. Shravana Jyoti, stated that the gunshot entry wound was one and five-eighths inches to the right of the belly button. The nine-millimetre projectile perforated several organs and large blood vessels before striking the spine. The blood accumulated within the chest cavity. 

Mr. Jyoti explained that when a significant amount of blood is lost and not replaced, death will ensue in a matter of minutes. Another factor was the injury to the internal organs, he said. 

The jurors also received copies of a report from DNA Labs International in Florida, which had tested numerous items sent by Cayman police. A swab from a knife with a black plastic handle showed a partial DNA profile with a mixture of two individuals. Mr. Rivers could not be excluded as a contributor. The chance that a person chosen at random would match the mixed profile was one in every 170,000 people. 

A swab from them interior door jamb showed a DNA profile indicating a mixture of at least two individuals contributing.  

The major profile matched the DNA profile of Mr. Rivers. The chance that a person chosen at random would match this profile was one in every 480 billion individuals. 

Other items tested included a swab from the window blinds and Mr. Rivers could not be excluded as a contributor to a partial DNA profile found.  

The chance that a person randomly chosen would match the DNA profile was one in every 1.2 billion. 

The Bowens’ son Cory lived with his parents, but was not home that night. A police constable, he provided a statement summarising his activities — he caught up on paper work at the George Town Police Station until after 10pm, went to visit a friend and then went to another friend’s house where he spent the night. 

The coroner told jurors they had three possible causes of death to choose from — natural causes, misadventure or suicide. She described misadventure as an unintended act or an intended act with unintended consequences. 

There was nothing to suggest Mr. Rivers was taking his own life, so she directed them that suicide was not a verdict they could consider. 

The law doers not provide any other verdict, she noted. If after they considered the matter they decided there was insufficient evidence to fit one of the remaining categories, they could come back and say it was an open verdict. 

She reminded them they were not determining any civil or criminal liability: they were establishing a cause of death. She also reminded them of evidence they had heard, including the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute Mr. Bowen. “Whether you agree or not is not relevant,” she said. 

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  1. catchandrelease

    A legal precedent has been established and publicly announced to all of Cayman.
    Unacceptable, illegal, behaviour can result in dire consequences to the perpetrator and without judicial repercussions to the victim.

    It’s both a warning and acknowledgement to future, similar situations

    Overall, I think the money was well spent.

  2. My sympathies are with Mr Bowens. This was a terrible situation to be placed in and I know, from personal experience, it will stay with him for the rest of his life.

    But better this inquest was for the intruder than for the property owner or some other innocent victim of crime.