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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Virginia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, November 22, 2019

Federal Jury Convicts Great Dismal Swamp Shooter

NORFOLK, Va. – A federal jury convicted a Suffolk man late yesterday on charges of assault with intent to commit murder and discharge of a firearm, stemming from an incident that took place on May 12 in the Great Dismal Swamp, a National Wildlife Refuge.

“But for the grace of god, the victim survived and was able to provide details about having been lured deep into the Dismal Swamp only to have his partner shoot him point-blank in the chest,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Attorney General Barr has made aggressive prosecution of this kind of gun violence a top priority, and we will continue to seek out and aggressively prosecute cases that involve this kind of senseless and wanton violence.”

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Maurice Lee, 26, had a tumultuous multi-year relationship with the victim, which escalated to the attempted murder in the Dismal Swamp. The defendant stopped by his parent’s home, retrieved a 9 millimeter semi-automatic handgun loaded with hollow-point bullets, and hid it in his jacket pocket. He lured the victim deep into the Dismal Swamp on the premise of having a picnic, and after walking several miles onto Lynn Ditch Road, he pulled out the firearm and shot the victim in the chest, telling the victim, “you were disloyal.” Lee threatened to shoot the victim again in the head if he told anyone what happened. Lee eventually called 911.  When the dispatcher asked how the victim got shot, Lee said it was a “long story” and that he had been trying to shoot a bear. When first responders arrived on scene, Lee continued to claim that he accidently shot the victim because a bear was going to attack him. 

Lee faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum penalty of life in prison when sentenced on March 16, 2020. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

This case is part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities. For more about Project Guardian, please click here.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), which is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.  PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

In this case, the USAO utilized an expert witness from the FBI, who testified about the results of gunshot residue tests and concluded that the muzzle of the firearm had been shot 3 to 18 inches from the victim when the near-fatal shot was fired. Based on his examination, he was also able to determine that the shell casing recovered from the crime scene had been fired from the firearm used in the crime. 

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Martin Culbreath, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office, Edward Grace, Acting Assistant Director of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Thomas E. Bennett, Chief of Suffolk Police, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar accepted the verdict. Assistant U.S. Attorneys John F. Butler and Elizabeth M. Yusi are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 2:19-cr-106.

Topic(s): 
Violent Crime
Contact: 
Joshua Stueve Director of Public Affairs joshua.stueve@usdoj.gov
Updated November 22, 2019