Wednesday, April 16, 2014
By TREVOR MAXWELL
PORTLAND — When James Pombriant heard the gunshot and saw the flash, he thought his two friends were playing a sick joke on him, he testified Monday.
It was the early morning of April 18, 2009, and the three men had been having sex and taking drugs for nearly 12 hours in the basement of Fred Wilson's home in South Portland.
The so-called ''dungeon'' was a fantasy world filled with sex toys and videos that gave the men an escape from their everyday lives, jobs and concerns about HIV, the potentially lethal virus that infected all three, Pombriant said.
Bruce Lavallee-Davidson had brought guns and ammunition, and the men used the Mossberg shotgun and a Smith & Wesson .44-caliber revolver as part of their sex games.
In an instant, the party ended.
''All of a sudden I heard a gun go off and I saw a flash of light that went from left to right,'' Pombriant testified on Monday, the first day of Lavallee-Davidson's manslaughter trial. ''I thought it was a blank I thought that they cooked this up to freak me out.''
Wilson, who had been engaged in a sex act with Pombriant, did not move. There was a long silence before Lavallee-Davidson spoke.
''He said, 'I think I killed him','' Pombriant recalled.
Wilson, a 50-year-old computer programmer who lived by himself on Henry Street in South Portland, died instantly from a single gunshot wound to the head. The events leading up to that shot, and Lavallee-Davidson's state of mind when he pulled the trigger, are the focus of the trial that's expected to last for most of this week in Cumberland County Superior Court.
Lavallee-Davidson, 50, an organic farmer from Skowhegan, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Attorneys Thomas Hallett and Mike Whipple represent Lavallee-Davidson. During opening arguments Monday morning, Whipple told the jury that his client should not be held legally responsible for what he described as a tragic accident.
''Bruce Davidson checked that gun three times that night,'' to make sure it was not loaded, Whipple said.
According to Whipple, Wilson had asked Lavallee-Davidson to point the revolver at his head, like a game of Russian roulette, to heighten the excitement of their sexual activity. Whipple said Lavallee-Davidson checked the gun and went to the bathroom for a few minutes.
''The gun was unloaded when he left the room,'' Whipple said. ''The only person in the room that was in a position to load the gun was Fred Wilson.''
In an interview with a Maine State Police detective, Lavallee-Davidson claimed that when he returned to the room, he held the gun to Wilson's head and Wilson asked him to pull the trigger. He did, and the gun clicked. Lavallee-Davidson said Wilson made the same request again, and the gun fired.
The prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese, told the jury that ultimately it does not matter who put the bullet in the chamber.
By law, it was Lavallee-Davidson's responsibility to make sure the gun was safe when he was handling it, Marchese said. While she accepts the proposition that Lavallee-Davidson did not intend to shoot Wilson in the head that morning, Marchese said the defendant's conduct was still criminal.
''This case is not about who loaded that gun. It is not about gay marriage. It is not about the right to use firearms,'' or the sexual preferences of the men involved, Marchese said.
''When a person puts a gun to the head of another person and doesn't check to see if it's loaded,'' she said, ''that is a highly, highly reckless act.''
Both sides told the jurors that part of their jobs will be to look beyond the elements of the case that could be considered unusual or taboo.
''This is a side of life that you might not be familiar with,'' Marchese said. She urged jurors ''not to judge Fred Wilson and not to judge this defendant on their sexuality or the games they engaged in.''
Lavallee-Davidson lived and farmed in Skowhegan with his longtime partner, but they had an open relationship when it came to sex, according to the prosecution and the defense.
Pombriant, 65, said he met Lavallee-Davidson online several years ago and they had engaged in a few sexual encounters. Lavallee-Davidson invited Pombriant to a sex party at Wilson's house on the night of April 17, 2009. Pombriant said Lavallee-Davidson was already at the home when he showed up around 8:30 p.m. Pombriant brought GBL, an industrial solvent that has gained popularity as a club drug when mixed with juice or sports drinks. The solvent can be lethal when mixed improperly.
At the party, Pombriant said the men used GBL and two other chemicals. He said Wilson had aerosol spray cans of Maximum Impact, a brand of ethyl chloride spray. The substance is sprayed onto a rag and then inhaled through the nose and mouth. There was also amyl nitrite, another inhalant often used as a recreational drug. The men smoked marijuana and also drank a small amount of beer, Pombriant testified.
Pombriant said he was disturbed by Wilson's ''excessive use'' of Maximium Impact. He said Wilson fell twice and passed out once with a rag full of the chemical in his mouth.
Pombriant said Lavallee-Davidson's guns were used in the sex play, but he saw they were not loaded early in the evening.
''I never saw anyone put bullets in the gun, any gun,'' Pombriant said.
Just before the shooting, Pombriant was reclined on a device called a sling, with his feet supported by stirrups above the rest of his body. He said Wilson was on his knees in front of him. Pombriant could not see what was going on in the rest of the basement, or whether Lavallee-Davidson had left the room to go to the bathroom.
Pombriant testified that he did not hear Lavallee-Davidson or Wilson say anything in the moments leading up to the shooting. If Wilson had in fact said something about Russian roulette, and if he told Lavallee-Davidson to pull the trigger, Pombriant did not hear it, he said.
After the shooting, Pombriant said he and Lavallee-Davidson were stunned and scared. There was no discussion of how the bullet wound up in the chamber, Pombriant said. He said they gathered their belongings and he suggested that Lavallee-Davidson report the incident. Lavallee-Davidson was not ready to do that, Pombriant said, so he left and went home to Auburn.
Later that day, Pombriant said he had an Internet chat in which Lavallee-Davidson suggested they tell authorities that Wilson had committed suicide.
''I would not say that this was suicide,'' Pombriant said. ''I would support the truth, that it was an accident.''
On Saturday night, after talking with a relative who is a lawyer, Pombriant called the South Portland police to report the death. He notified Lavallee-Davidson of his decision with an e-mail.
Steve Webster, head of detectives for South Portland, spoke to Pombriant, and at 6 a.m. the next morning Webster got a call from Lavallee-Davidson. A few hours later, Lavallee-Davidson voluntarily arrived in South Portland and sat down for an interview with Webster and Scott Harakles, the Maine State Police detective who would be the primary investigator on the case.
Jurors on Monday watched a videotape of the interview. Lavallee-Davidson said he was in shock when the gun fired, killing a man who he considered a very good friend.
''I was convinced that it was unloaded,'' Lavallee-Davidson told the detectives. Lavallee-Davidson was released as the investigation continued.
Four days later, on April 22, 2009, Lavallee-Davidson and his partner drew statewide attention when they testified at the Augusta Civic Center on behalf of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage -- the question ultimately failed in a statewide referendum in November. The couple were among dozens of people who spoke in favor of the bill. Their testimony was recorded and put on YouTube.
Staff writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:
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