BRENTWOOD � A Rockingham County Superior Court jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all counts for Mark Gray, of Portsmouth, who was charged with numerous felonies stemming from a gunfire incident in front of his home on Summer Street in 2018.
The jury, which deliberated for approximately six hours, found Gray not guilty of two counts of reckless conduct with a deadly weapon, attempted first degree assault with a firearm, criminal threatening with a deadly weapon and criminal mischief.
Meanwhile, in August, a different jury convicted Gray’s partner, former Portsmouth Police Commissioner Brenna Cavanaugh, of being his accomplice in the incident, finding her guilty of being an accomplice to attempted first degree assault and accomplice to criminal mischief. The question now remains what will happen to Cavanaugh’s conviction, which she has appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, now that Gray’s jury determined such crimes did not take place.
Testimony in Gray’s trial lasted four days and the jury began deliberations around 3 p.m. Wednesday. A verdict was returned Thursday at approximately 2:30 p.m.
The charges stemmed from a shooting on Summer Street in the early morning hours of Aug. 18, 2018, when Gray and Cavanaugh were woken by who they believed to be an intruder in their home at 140 Summer St. Following a foot chase out of the house and into the street, Gray admittedly fired six shots at a pickup truck driven by the alleged intruder as it fled the scene.
Unknown at the time, the intruder was a teenager � a Portsmouth High School student � whom the couple had met before, and due to miscommunication via the Snapchat mobile app with a classmate, he thought there was a party at the house that night and entered through an unlocked door, the teen testified last week.
Three shots hit the vehicle around the driver’s side door area, and the additional three were never recovered.
In a statement, Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway said, “Although we certainly respect the process and the jury�s time and effort in reaching verdicts in this case, we respectfully disagree with the verdicts and are very disappointed with the outcome.”
Gray’s attorney Alan Cronheim said, “We appreciate the hard work of the jury. This has been a hard process for Mark, but we know it was a hard set of issues for (the teen) and his family, as well. We have them in our thoughts, too. The most important part of this is that nobody was hurt.”
Assistant County Attorneys Ryan Ollis and Megan Ryan painted a picture to the jury of a man who recklessly fired his gun and endangered both the teen and the densely populated neighborhood. Key testimony for the prosecution was given by state police Major Crimes Unit detective Tara Elsemiller, who testified one of the bullets hit the pickup truck at a 90-degree angle, and based on her findings, the shooter would likely have been standing to the side of the truck, not in front of it. The prosecution used her testimony as an attempt to discount Gray’s claim of self defense, and that the truck was coming at him.
The teen testified he heard a woman�s voice say faintly, �Shoot him.� Cavanaugh at her trial denied saying that.
But Cronheim presented the jury with a very different depiction of the events in question � that Gray was responding solely to what he believed to be a home intruder at 3:30 a.m., who then drove his truck at an accelerated speed towards Gray and Cavanaugh in the street. Cronheim said Gray “feared for his life.”
In an interview with Portsmouth police just a few hours after the incident, shown to the jury, Gray told detectives, “I want it to be stressed that I was afraid for my life, I was afraid for her life. He came at me with a deadly weapon as far as I�m concerned.”
Last week, the teenager testified he was “terrified,” and that Gray and Cavanaugh did not have to get out of the way to avoid his vehicle as he accelerated to leave the scene. The teen, who did not have a driver’s license and was operating his father’s truck, backed up into a telephone pole before he fled towards Islington Street.
He testified he had to stop at a gas station down the street because he thought he was going to vomit. “All I could think about was the fact that I actually got shot at,” he said.
Reached for comment after the verdict, Cavanaugh’s attorney Michael Zaino said “the one fundamental difference between the two trials is the judge allowed Mr. Gray to get a self defense instruction, and that was not allowed in Brenna’s trial.”
“So clearly when you educate the jury on self defense, there’s an actual defense to the charge,” Zaino said. “That’s one of the issues of our appeal.”
Zaino explained further that per law, someone can still be an accomplice even if the “perpetrator” is found not guilty, as long as the person “had the purpose to aid the other person.”