Crime

Man guilty of gun ‘horseplay’ that killed Bellingham councilman’s son

Masen Jon Potter makes his first appearance in Whatcom County Superior Court at the Whatcom County Jail on April 3, 2015, after being charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of Aaron R. Bornemann. Potter pleaded guilty March 2, 2016, to second-degree manslaughter.
Masen Jon Potter makes his first appearance in Whatcom County Superior Court at the Whatcom County Jail on April 3, 2015, after being charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of Aaron R. Bornemann. Potter pleaded guilty March 2, 2016, to second-degree manslaughter. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

A Bellingham man must spend 5 years and 10 months in prison for killing a friend while “messing around” with a .22-caliber pistol at a home on Grant Street.

Masen Jon Potter, 22, pleaded guilty Wednesday morning, March 2, to shooting and killing Aaron Bornemann, son of City Councilman Terry Bornemann.

Aaron Bornemann had gone over to Potter’s home, 1241 Grant St., around 6 p.m. on the evening of April 2, 2015, to hang out with Potter and his roommate. Bornemann brought over a pistol. He removed the magazine, and the men aimed the unloaded gun at things in the house, cocked the hammer, and dry-fired: pulling the trigger without firing a bullet.

Around 10 p.m. Potter and Bornemann went outside to smoke a cigarette. Once they came back inside, Potter grabbed the handgun again and, believing it wasn’t loaded, aimed at Bornemann’s head, according to charging papers.

Potter pulled the trigger. This time the gun was loaded. Bornemann was rushed to St. Joseph hospital. He never regained consciousness. He was 23.

Potter immediately told police at the scene he had shot his friend. Officers found the gun with a clip inside, loaded with 22 rounds of ammo. Another .22-caliber round was in the chamber. He told officers he knew it’s extremely unsafe — “dangerous and reckless,” he said — to aim a gun at a person.

A police investigation suggested Bornemann loaded the gun without Potter knowing, said Prosecutor Dave McEachran.

Certainly it was not an intentional crime. But, boy, you just can’t point guns at people. For those of us who grew up around guns, it’s beaten into our heads.

Prosecutor Dave McEachran

Toxicology tests on Bornemann came up positive for alcohol and illegal drugs. Potter’s use of intoxicants was likely a “mirror image” of Bornemann’s that night, McEachran said. A few hours after the shooting, at 5 a.m., officers booked Potter into jail to face a charge of manslaughter in the first degree.

“This tragedy repeats itself over and over,” Terry Bornemann told The Bellingham Herald the day after his son died. “We’ve got to come to some kind of sense in this country over these senseless deaths through guns.”

The younger Bornemann had been active in the local music scene. By day, he worked landscaping jobs. He lived with his parents.

Potter was released from jail in April on $25,000 bond and required to check in each week with a Superior Court commissioner.

On Wednesday morning, Potter pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the second degree and unlawful possession of MDMA, also known as the drug Ecstasy, for having the substance on the night of the shooting.

Superior Court Judge Ira Uhrig sentenced him to 70 months in prison, as suggested by a plea deal. Bornemann’s family had discussed the case at length with the prosecutor and agreed with the deal that was reached, McEachran said.

“Certainly it was not an intentional crime,” McEachran said on Wednesday. “But, boy, you just can’t point guns at people. For those of us who grew up around guns, it’s beaten into our heads.”

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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