The D.C. government is treating the case of a businessman possessing ammunition without a gun like the great murder trial of 2014.
The city has spent almost two years and countless resources prosecuting Mark Witaschek for having a single shotgun shell and muzzleloader bullets. His trial, which began in November, hit an all-time low for absurdity Wednesday.
Mr. Witaschek took the stand in his own defense at D.C. Superior Court to explain why he was not guilty of possession of unregistered ammunition. It is illegal in the nation’s capital to possess ammunition unless you have a registered firearm. The maximum penalty is a $1,000 fine and one year in jail.
Defense attorney Howard X. McEachern asked his client to explain how he came to have a shotgun shell on his desk at his home in Georgetown. Mr. Witaschek explained that he kept the shotgun shell as a “souvenir” from a hunting trip in southern Virginia with friends in 2006.
He said that as a deer approached, “I raised the shotgun, took aim, fired and nothing happened.” He looked up and saw the deer run straight into a tree.
Mr. Witaschek, a lifelong hunter, approached the animal and saw that it had died from impact. He opened the action on the gun, extracted the shell and put it into his pocket.
When he brought the deer back to the hunting camp, his friends teased him about how he did it. “I tend to keep mementos from hunts, like expended shells, when there’s a story behind it,” Mr. Witaschek told Judge Robert E. Morin.
Mr. McEachern asked his client about the state of the plastic shell. “I assumed because it did not fire that it was inoperable,” Mr. Witaschek replied.
The prosecution then was given its chance to cross-examine the defendant. Oritsejemine Trouth, assistant attorney general for the District, acted as though she was bringing a mass murderer to justice.
“How many guns do you own?” she demanded. Mr. Witaschek responded by listing his firearms: shotguns, two handguns, two muzzleloaders and a hunting rifle, which he kept at his sister’s house in Virginia and a locker at a shooting range.
“Don’t you have other guns? Isn’t there one you have somewhere else?” Mr. Witaschek said he kept his deceased father’s .357 revolver at a range near his New Hampshire office. Ms. Trouth seemed to have found her smoking gun, as a manner of speaking.
Ms. Trouth did not know basic firearm terminology and function. She asked the defendant about the hunting trip. “You took the shell out of the rifle?”
Mr. Witaschek calmly replied, “Out of the shotgun, yes.”
“You found the shell at the deer?” she asked. He explained again that a misfired shell was still inside the 12-gauge shotgun.
In between constant whispering and guidance from the other assistant attorney general in court, Peter Saba, Ms. Trouth increased the intensity of her questioning. She asked Judge Morin to approach the defendant in the witness chair.