May 30, 2020

Houlton murder suspect denied bail> Authorities seek motive for party’s fatal gunplay

HOULTON — A Houlton man charged with shooting another man to death at a party last week was denied bail during a 2nd District Court hearing Monday.

Donald Boyce, 38, allegedly shot and killed Shawn B. Bither, 30, while the two were at the home of Thomas Bell on Military Street in Houlton on Thursday. Boyce also lived at the house.

Boyce retained attorney Eugene McLaughlin of Presque Isle to represent him. Assistant Attorney General William Stokes is representing the state.

After almost two hours of testimony before Judge David Griffiths from police and people who were at the party, it still was not clear exactly why the shooting took place. Witnesses said a lot of drinking occurred.

Maine State Police Detective Dale Keegan testified that an autopsy performed by Dr. Kristen Sweeney of the state Medical Examiner’s Office revealed that Bither died from a single gunshot wound to the left temple of his head.

Keegan said the autopsy also showed that the weapon used had been directly against Bither’s head.

Witnesses reported that Boyce had fired the gun, a .22-caliber revolver, several times during the night. No one, however, was able to say how Boyce acquired the gun.

Thomas Sawyer, 32, a friend of both men who was at the party, said there had been no fighting or arguing at the party by anyone before the shooting.

He said he was sitting in front of a desk and Bither was sitting next to him, while Boyce was standing near the desk.

Using his finger to point like a gun, Sawyer demonstrated how Boyce suddenly put the gun to the right side of Sawyer’s nose.

“I said, `Go ahead, I ain’t got nothing to lose,”‘ Sawyer said. “Shawn got up, walked around me and said, `What about me?’ and that’s when it happened.”

“I thought it was all an act,” said an emotional Sawyer. “I thought Don had shot it up in the air and [Bither] fell just to scare everybody.”

In an affidavit filed with the court by Keegan on Thursday, Sawyer said Bither had tried to take the gun from Boyce and that was when Boyce put the gun to Bither’s head and shot him.

Diane Newman, 28, who arrived at the party about 15 minutes before the shooting, said she only heard one shot.

“I heard a `click’ and Don had the gun to his [own] head,” she said. “Shawn said, `It’s my turn.’ I looked away and heard a shot.”

Newman said that when she turned back, she saw Bither on the floor and Boyce was calling police.

Beth Lindsay, a taxicab driver who had taken Boyce home from a bar in town around midnight, testified that Boyce showed her a gun and said, “Someone’s going to die tonight.”

She made it clear, however, that Boyce, who was a regular customer, always said that, so she didn’t think that much of it.

“It was kind of like a little joke he has,” she said.

She said that after Boyce got out of her cab he fired five or six shots toward the house’s foundation.

She said she contacted her dispatcher, who advised her to leave immediately. When she asked if she should report the incident to police, Lindsay said, the dispatcher told her to do so if she saw a police officer, but that otherwise neighbors probably would report it. The police station is about a half mile from the Bell home.

Lindsay returned to the house about an hour later with more people and at that time, she said, she heard shots coming from the back of the house.

Officer Dana Duff of the Houlton Police Department was the first policeman to arrive at the house after the shooting was reported at 1:47 a.m. He recalled seeing Bither’s body on the floor and Boyce kneeling next to the body, staring at it.

After witnesses identified Boyce as the shooter, Duff said, he took Boyce outside and put handcuffs on him. At that time he said Boyce, on his own, said in a low, almost throaty voice, “Dana, we were playing chicken. I shot him in the head. Gimme a cigarette.”

Police have still not indicated whether anyone at the party was playing any games with the gun, such as Russian roulette.

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