Federal judge acquits Camden captain of manslaughter

By Stephen Betts | Jan 09, 2019
Capt. Richard Smith

St. Thomas, Virgin Islands — A federal judge acquitted a Camden captain accused of manslaughter for the death more than a three years ago of a crew member who jumped overboard during a psychotic episode.

U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Gomez issued the acquittal judgment mid-day Wednesday, Jan. 9, for Capt. Richard Smith, according to David Cattie, who was one of two attorneys representing the captain.

The ruling means that the case will not be presented to the jury for a verdict. The trial had begun Monday with opening statements by the prosecution and defense.

Cattie said his client is free after being ordered to remain in the Virgin Islands pending the outcome of the trial. A federal grand jury in the Virgin Islands indicted Smith July 12 for seaman's manslaughter. The indictment was sealed and Smith was arrested Nov. 2, when he arrived in the Virgin Islands.

Cattie said the defense asked for the acquittal, arguing that the federal government had not proven its case. The U.S. Attorney's Office completed the prosecution portion of the trial late Tuesday.

The charge carried a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in prison.

The incident occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 25, 2015, when a new crew member, David Pontious, jumped overboard after attacking Smith, according to a report by the Coast Guard. Smith's boat, the Cimarron, was 400 miles off the coast of North Carolina and 400 miles from Bermuda.

The 66-year-old captain has lived in Maine all his life, and 45 of those years in Camden. He operates the Cimarron as a charter boat during the summer in Camden, and in the winters in the Virgin Islands. When he comes to Camden, he lives aboard his ship, Smith said in a November interview.

Smith said he tried to contact nearby vessels by radio, but because of their distance from shore, no one could be reached. He said it took more than a day to reach anyone by radio.

A Coast Guard report stated that "Once David [Porteus] jumped off the vessel and the Captain saw him sink into the water and not come back up, he was relieved, because at this point David was not a threat to the crew. Hindsight is 20/20 and when not placed in a situation like that, one may ask why didn't you search? Why didn't you throw a life ring and an EPIRB out? The Captain saw him go under and not resurface, and that is why he did not turn back and search, plus he was scared to death that if he [Pontius] got back on the vessel, he would throw other people overboard."

"I asked the Captain face to face about why he did not throw the EPIRB out with a life ring, and he told me that he never even thought about that with all the fear and terror that was going through his mind," the report states.

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