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Jury acquits Marine in crowd shooting

Finds he acted in self-defense

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

The Salem Superior Court jury acquitted Marine Sergeant Daniel Cotnoir, a 34-year-old reservist who was named 2005's ``Marine of the Year," of two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in the August shooting . After the verdict, two jurors hugged him outside the courthouse.

``Everybody likes to think their home is safe," Cotnoir, a reservist, said after the verdict. ``You don't have to have been a war veteran or see anything gruesome to be scared when things go flying through your bedroom window."

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

Cotnoir's house overlooks a parking lot across from two nightclubs. After the clubs let out at 2 a.m. Aug. 13 , revelers played music and were singing and dancing.

He testified that he felt ``under attack" after a bottle was thrown through his window minutes after he called police about the noise. He fired a rifle shot into what he said was a clear area, but the shell struck a curb and shattered into fragments, striking Kelvin Castillo, 21, and Lissette Cumba, 16, 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 he never considered accepting the offer.

``Somebody else is going to be honored with [the 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 .

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

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 occasionally have monumental lapses of judgment."

Dawley, Castillo, and Cumba were not immediately available for comment after the verdict. On Wednesday, Castillo said he'd already forgiven Cotnoir, but wanted a conviction.

``I respect him for everything he's done for the country," Castillo said. ``I just don't respect what he did" on Aug. 13.

Juror Becky Flessas, who embraced Cotnoir outside the courthouse, said his service in Iraq was not a factor during deliberations.

``We were going by the facts that we had," she said.

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