Jury convicts swamp shooter

Published 10:27 pm Friday, November 22, 2019

A federal jury convicted a Suffolk man late Thursday on charges of assault with intent to commit murder and discharge of a firearm, stemming from an incident that took place on May 12 in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

“But for the grace of God, the victim survived and was able to provide details about having been lured deep into the Dismal Swamp only to have his partner shoot him point-blank in the chest,” G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, stated in a press release. “Attorney General (William) Barr has made aggressive prosecution of this kind of gun violence a top priority, and we will continue to seek out and aggressively prosecute cases that involve this kind of senseless and wanton violence.”

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Maurice Devonte Lee, 26, had a tumultuous multi-year relationship with the victim, which escalated to the attempted murder in the Dismal Swamp.

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The defendant stopped by his parent’s home, retrieved a 9 millimeter semi-automatic handgun loaded with hollow-point bullets, and hid it in his jacket pocket. He lured the victim deep into the Dismal Swamp on the premise of having a picnic, and after walking several miles onto Lynn Ditch Road, he pulled out the firearm and shot the victim in the chest, telling the victim, “you were disloyal.” Lee threatened to shoot the victim again in the head if he told anyone what happened.

Lee eventually called 911. When the dispatcher asked how the victim got shot, Lee said it was a “long story” and that he had been trying to shoot a bear. When first responders arrived on scene, Lee continued to claim that he accidently shot the victim because a bear was going to attack him.

Lee faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum penalty of life in prison when sentenced on March 16.

In this case, the prosecution utilized an expert witness from the FBI, who testified about the results of gunshot residue tests and concluded that the muzzle of the firearm had been shot 3 to 18 inches from the victim when the near-fatal shot was fired. Based on his examination, he was also able to determine that the shell casing recovered from the crime scene had been fired from the firearm used in the crime.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Martin Culbreath, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office, Edward Grace, Acting Assistant Director of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Thomas E. Bennett, Chief of Suffolk Police, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar accepted the verdict. Assistant U.S. Attorneys John F. Butler and Elizabeth M. Yusi are prosecuting the case.