The defendant, Jay Lovell, also asked that the case against him be
heard by a jury trial, which a state circuit court judge scheduled
to begin next Thursday in the city of Kona on Hawaii's Big Island.
His plea of not guilty was entered during an arraignment before
Judge Ronald Ibarra that lasted just a few minutes.
Rene Umberger, 53, director of a coral reef conservation group
called For the Fishes, has accused Lovell of attacking her at a
depth of 50 feet while she and others in her group were videotaping
Lovell and another diver collecting fish.
She said Lovell swam rapidly toward her and ripped the scuba
regulator out of her mouth without provocation. She managed to
reinsert the mouthpiece within 10 to 20 seconds and was unharmed,
but a less experienced diver could have panicked, leading to a
drowning or a fatally rapid ascent to the surface.
An investigation of the rare scuba altercation led prosecutors to
charge Lovell with a single count of making a terroristic threat, a
misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
Defense lawyer Evans Smith said his client had felt threatened and
acted in self defense when confronted by a menacing group of divers.
[to top of second column]
"Mr. Lovell was underwater and suddenly surrounded by six strangers
with heavy equipment who blocked his route to the surface," Smith
said, adding that Lovell immediately contacted authorities after the
incident. "He's not the criminal here."
While conservationists have been pressing for greater protections
for coral fish, collecting aquarium specimens is generally legal in
(Reporting by Karin Stanton in Kona; Writing by Steve Gorman;
Editing by Nick Macfie)
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