AUGUSTA – Convicted killer Shannon Atwood, 37, of Canaan, was denied a new trial Wednesday morning, paving the way for his upcoming sentencing.
Atwood was convicted this summer in the 2007 murder of Cheryl Murdoch, 35, who shared a home with him on Rt. 23 in Canaan. Her body was found in woods nearby the home, where she died of blunt trauma to the head.
The defense team of John Alsop and Arnold Clark had presented a motion for a new trial, saying that Justice Nancy Mills’ guilty verdict was tainted by publicity during the trial.
In a conference in her chambers moments before she rendered her verdict, Mills told the defense team and prosecutor, Asst. Attorney General Andrew Benson, that she knew one of Atwood’s previous victims, Jennifer Nickerson-Stewart. Atwood had been convicted of aggravated assault on Nickerson-Stewart and had previously served time in prison for the crime.
Mills said she realized she knew the victim when she saw a profile of Nickerson-Stewart in the Bangor Daily News and the Central Maine Morning Sentinel during the trial. Alsop presented his motion, saying that because Nickerson was the judge’s former hairdresser, her verdict was impugned.
In her nine-page denial of a new trial, Mills said she only had a passing acquaintance with Nickerson, did not know her connection to Atwood and had never discussed Nickerson-Stewart’s private life. She said she did not read the newspaper article once she saw Nickerson-Stewart’s photograph.
“Mr. Atwood received a fair and impartial trial,” Mills said.
Benson said sentencing for Atwood should be held within a few weeks. He could get 25 years to life.