By Maggie Cassidy
Valley News Staff Writer
Newport — Police are trying to determine whether a Laurel Street homeowner was justified when he shot his son-in-law at his front door.
Meanwhile, the son-in-law said in an interview that he was trying to return his wife’s purse to her following an argument earlier in the day and was looking for a place to leave it on the porch.
“The door was never opened; (I) never tried to open it,” said Jay Handy, 27, who remains hospitalized with a gunshot to his midsection.
No arrests have been made in connection to the Aug. 28 incident, in which police said homeowner Brian Valley, 47, fired “a single shot at an unwanted subject at his residence.” Valley’s stepdaughter is Handy’s wife, Handy confirmed in an interview on Friday. The men’s names were released for the first time by authorities earlier in the day.
Newport Police Chief Jim Burroughs said the shooting, which occurred around 8 p.m., took place “at the front door” of the single-family home at 146 Laurel St., and that Handy was on the front porch.
Valley was one of several people to call 911 following the incident, according to a news release.
Handy was shot by a 12-gauge shotgun utilizing birdshot, according to the release. He is being treated at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where he was transported by medical helicopter following the shooting.
In an interview Friday afternoon, Handy said he’d had a verbal dispute with his wife, Brittany, in the afternoon before the shooting, at which point she left to go to her mother and stepfather’s house.
He said he went to the house that evening to return her purse, which she had left in the car following the argument.
Brittany Handy, who has been visiting her husband regularly at the hospital, declined to comment.
Attempts to reach Valley this week were unsuccessful. On Tuesday and on Friday, a man who answered at his personal number and the house line hung up on a reporter.
Valley is an independent contractor who delivers the Valley News.
Burroughs said that no arrests have been made because the investigation is ongoing and investigators need to identify the “specific nature” of the shooting. Newport Police are working in conjunction with the State Police Major Crime Unit and the Sullivan County Attorney’s Office.
“It just wouldn’t be prudent to put the cart before the horse,” Burroughs said midday on Friday.
He confirmed the context in which the men know each other, and that a woman was inside the residence at the time of the shooting.
The news release indicated that hospital staff have listed Handy in fair condition. That is one step worse than his condition on Tuesday, which was satisfactory. The differences between the two pertain to a patient’s comfort level and whether his “indicators” are “favorable” or “excellent.”
Burroughs said authorities are investigating whether the shooting was justified under the New Hampshire law governing physical force in defense of a person, and cited the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law.
A majority of states, including New Hampshire, have a “Castle doctrine” that says homeowners have no duty to safely retreat, if possible, when confronted by an intruder in their home or property.
In recent years, several states — including New Hampshire — have passed “Stand Your Ground” laws which say there is no duty to retreat, even in public.
A section of the law authorities cited Friday reads, in part, that a person “is not justified in using deadly force on another to defend himself or herself or a third person from deadly force” if the person under threat can retreat from the encounter, “except that he or she is not required to retreat if he or she is within his or her dwelling, its curtilage, or anywhere he or she has a right to be, and was not the initial aggressor.”
In the interview, Handy described himself as a staunch gun rights advocate but said he believes that guns should be used as a last resort after you’ve tried to solve a situation through other means.
Handy’s hometown was listed as White River Junction on the news release, but Handy said he lives in Newport. He said he and Brittany were married in March 2013.
“We were fighting” on the day of the shooting, Handy said. “They’re going to say that. It’s true. Husbands and wives fight every day.”
Handy said his vehicle broke down in the afternoon, and when it did, the couple got into an argument and Brittany Handy left.
He said that when he showed up at her parents’ house that evening, he saw Brittany Handy through the door and she signaled that she did not want to see him. He said he was looking for a place to leave her purse on the porch when Valley came downstairs with a shotgun.
He said Valley tapped the shotgun on the glass door, and Handy said “if you’re going to shoot me, just do it” and called Valley an obscenity.
He said he has had one altercation with Valley in years past but that they were largely on good terms, although his wife’s parents want her to divorce him, he said.
Handy, who said he’s had two surgeries so far and may have more, struggled at times to talk on Friday and said the pain is unlike anything he’s experienced. He said he expects he will be at the hospital for a significant amount of time.
He said that immediately following the shooting, he was overcome with dread when he heard an EMT call for the medical helicopter.
“I know when they call DHART, it’s the real deal,” he said. “I really thought I was going to die.”