Jury: Iraq Vet Fired Into Crowd in Self-Defense

A jury deliberated just two hours Thursday before finding an Iraq war veteran acted in self-defense when he fired a shotgun into a raucous crowd of club-goers outside his Lawrence home, injuring two people.

The Salem Superior Court jury acquitted Marine Sgt. Daniel Cotnoir, a 34-year-old reservist named last year's "Marine of the Year," of two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in the shooting last August. After the verdict, a juror hugged him.

Cotnoir, who served eight months in Iraq in 2004, helped create a mortician's unit for the Marine Corps, for which he was credited in winning the Marine of the Year award. He and his wife accepted the award in Washington, D.C., one month before the shooting.

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Cotnoir's house, which is also his family's funeral parlor, overlooks a parking lot that sits across from two nightclubs. After the clubs let out at 2 a.m. on Aug. 13, 2005, revelers cranked their music and were singing and dancing.

Cotnoir testified he felt "under attack" after a bottle was thrown through his window minutes after he called police to complain. He said he was in fear of his family's safety when he grabbed a rifle and fired a shot into what he said was a clear area.

The shell struck a curb and shattered into fragments, striking Kevin Castillo, 21, and Lissette Cumba, 15, both of Lowell.

Cotnoir said prosecutors had offered a deal of 12 years of probation if he agreed to plead guilty to three felony charges. But he said never considered accepting the offer.

"Somebody else is going to be honored with (Marine of the Year award) next month, and I wouldn't want him to get something that I've tarnished, and by that same token, my family's good name," Cotnoir said.

If convicted, he could have faced up to 20 years in prison, a prospect that Cotnoir said caused him and his wife "many sleepless nights" after he rejected the deal.

Cotnoir stood stoically and showed no emotions as the verdicts were read. But afterward, he hugged his 12-year-old daughter, Ashley. She and her 7-year-old sister, Morgan, had clung to each other when the jury entered the courtroom.

Prosecutor John Dawley had urged jurors not to "give him extra points because he was in Iraq."

"He is basically a good guy," Dawley said. "But this is not a case about making someone a bad guy. Good people do bad things. Good people occasionally have monumental lapses of judgment."

Juror Becky Flessas embraced Cotnoir on the sidewalk outside the courthouse. She said Cotnoir's service in Iraq was not a factor during deliberations.

"We were going by the facts that we had," she said. "There wasn't enough evidence there."

Cotnoir's attorney, Robert Lewin, asked jurors to put themselves in Cotnoir's shoes, noting a bottle was thrown through Cotnoir's bedroom window at about 3 a.m. while his children slept upstairs.

"You really have to try to put yourself in his room that night," Lewin said. "How do you think you'd feel?"

Lewin also pointed to a prior incident during which someone fired a gun at Cotnoir's house.

"Consider not only what happened that morning, but also the history of violence in that parking lot," he said.

On Thursday, Cotnoir said he won't apologize to those he injured.

"I appreciate the pain that they are going through," he said. "I wouldn't say 'sorry' would be the word."

Cotnoir said he did what he felt was necessary for his family.

"It's my obligation to protect them," he said.

Cotnoir's wife, Mary Kate, said the family plans to move out of Lawrence.