Sep. 23—AUGUSTA — It took a jury just over three hours to acquit a 23-year-old Auburn man of murder in the 2019 shooting in the Auburn Walmart parking lot.
Eight women and four men also found Gage Dalphonse of Crest Avenue in Auburn not guilty of manslaughter.
Jean Fournier, 41, of Turner was shot twice in the back July 27, 2019, in the Walmart parking lot on Mount Auburn Avenue.
Dalphonse claimed he acted in self-defense after Fournier walked over to his parked car to demand he apologize to his girlfriend for calling her an expletive and then hit him in the mouth.
Prosecutors said Dalphonse took aim at Fournier's back as he ran from Dalphonse's car and was shot as he passed the rear of the Auburn man's car.
Assistant Attorney General Lisa Bogue said one of the two shots instantly paralyzed Fournier where he fell, well clear of the back of Dalphonse's car, proving Dalphonse had time to aim at the fleeing man before firing his handgun.
In his closing argument Wednesday, defense attorney James Howaniec said Maine State Police had concluded that theory early in the case, then tried to force contradictory evidence to make it stick.
Before the jury left the courtroom and after the forewoman read the verdict, a woman sitting with the victim's family ran out.
After the jury left the courtroom, Dalphonse was released from custody and joined his family and friends in the courtroom gallery and hugged them.
"Obviously we're pleased with the verdict," Howaniec said. "I'm sympathetic with the emotions of the Fournier family. This was an exceedingly difficult and emotional case. We have believed from the beginning that Gage was acting in self-defense. We feel that the evidence was consistent with that."
He said the jury appeared to agree.
"It was an incredibly unfortunate and tragic sequence of events that evolved basically over one minute in the Walmart parking lot from the moment Gage first encountered Mr. Fournier to the tragic events that occurred over in the next lane," he said.
The incident was sad for all involved he said, noting Dalphonse spent more than two years in the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn awaiting trial.
"We're obviously disappointed," Bogue said of the acquittal. "We all worked hard. We put on the best case that we had and we respect the jury's verdict."
Witnesses testified that Dalphonse was driving into the lot with his best friend to drop him off at his car that he'd parked there earlier in the day.
They passed a woman Dalphonse had worked with at a local nursing home.
The two had argued at work and hadn't spoken in months.
She saw Dalphonse in the lot and called him a "little bitch;" he retorted: "shut your f------ whore mouth."
Dalphonse continued through the parking lot and parked after encountering Fournier, the woman's boyfriend.
Fournier came up to the driver's side window and demanded Dalphonse apologize to his girlfriend.
Dalphonse said he would apologize to Fournier, but not his girlfriend.
Fournier, who was nearly three times Dalphonse's weight of 105 pounds, hit Dalphonse in the mouth, breaking the skin inside his lip.
His friend, Defghan Zitsch, who was seated in the Volkswagen Golf beside Dalphonse, testified that Fournier had then tried to unlock the driver's side door.
Zitch testified he thought Fournier intended to pull Dalphonse from the car and beat him.
He said the blow to Dalphonse had dazed him.
His defense team tried to show that the shooting happened instantly while Fournier was at Dalphonse's door.
They pointed to one of the shell casings that landed in the car as well as the trajectory of one of the bullets that followed a path from Fournier's lower left back up through his torso.
Prosecutors sought to prove Dalphonse had taken the time to aim and shoot after Fournier had spotted Dalphonse's gun, shouted, "Gun!" then "Run!" as he fled toward the back of the car.
Bogue said Dalphonse had a loaded Glock 9mm handgun in a holster at the front of his pants having returned from a firing range in Poland earlier that day.
Attorneys for Dalphonse had filed a motion to move the case out of Androscoggin County due to media coverage. The trial was held at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta for administrative reasons.
The trial lasted a week.