MACHIAS, Maine — A 27-year-old local man accused of double murder entered a guilty plea Monday in Washington County Superior Court.
Richard Widdecombe Jr. of Machias showed no emotion as Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea painted a gruesome picture of a “spurned” boyfriend who brutally shot and killed his ex-girlfriend Katie Cabana, 29, in front of her three children and then went outside and killed her new boyfriend, Aaron Settipani, 41, of Eastport at Cabana’s home in Marshfield in the early hours of Jan. 23, 2008.
Widdecombe was charged with two counts of murder. He could be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison on the shootings. The sentencing is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 27.
Widdecombe last year confessed to shooting and killing Cabana and Settipani and in April entered a plea of not guilty and not criminally responsible by reason of mental defect.
Zainea said that if the matter had gone to trial, the state would have shown that Widdecombe was obsessed with Cabana after they broke up, including sitting outside her house in his car and watching for hours.
Cabana had ended the relationship about five months before the shootings took place. During the early morning hours of Jan. 23 he went to the Cabana residence armed with a rifle and 10 rounds of ammunition, Zainea recounted. He left his car at an abandoned house and walked through the woods to get to her house.
Zainea said that Cabana’s son, Gabriel Brady, who was 9 years old at the time, was awakened by screams. When he went to investigate, he saw Widdecombe holding a rifle. Brady told police that his mother begged Widdecombe “not to do it in front of the children.” Brady told police he also told Widdecombe not to do it.
Cabana then went into the bathroom to call police, and when she came out and walked down the hallway, Widdecombe shot her in the back.
“You killed our mother,” the kids yelled, according to Zainea.
Brady then saw a puddle of blood under his mother while “she was still breathing,” Zainea related to the court.
Widdecombe then went outside, and Brady said he heard three more shots. That is when Widdecombe shot Settipani, once in the head and once through the arm and chest.
Brady told police that Widdecombe then returned to the house and shot Cabana again while she lay on the floor.
Widdecombe then pulled back the slide on the gun and shot Cabana’s then 6-year-old daughter Autumn Rodgers in the foot.
Brady got a towel for his sister’s bleeding foot and then put her on the bed.
The assistant attorney general said neighbors also told police they heard shots.
When police officers arrived at the Cabana house, the lights on Settipani’s Jeep were on. They found him slumped in the passenger side of the car.
Police then went inside and found Cabana dead, with her children nearby. According to the state medical examiner’s report, Cabana died of two gunshot wounds to the back; one of the bullets had perforated her heart.
Police went to Widdecombe’s house in Machias, and after a brief standoff he turned himself in.
He told officers that he went to the house to help Cabana with her minivan, which she had told him was stuck, the prosecutor recounted. He heard Cabana and Settipani upstairs in Cabana’s bedroom, he told police, and “he became enraged.” Settipani left.
He told police he first shot Cabana, then Settipani and then went back in the house to shoot Cabana again. He then left the house and went home.
In the courtroom Monday as Zainea summarized the night’s events, Widdecombe stood between his two attorneys, Jeffrey Davidson of East Machias and David Mitchell of Calais, with his head down.
When Justice E. Allen Hunter asked Widdecombe if he acknowledged that he had killed Cabana and Settipani, Widdecombe said, “Yes, sir.”
Although Widdecombe is to be sentenced later this month, his foster mother was given permission to address the court because she will be out of town on the day of the sentencing.
Karen Polley told the judge Widdecombe was the “most abused child I have ever taken into my home.”
She said that when he was introduced to people he smiled and shook hands but there was “nothing in his eyes.”
Widdecombe was placed in 17 different homes and had been sent to school for physically and emotionally abused children. After graduating from the school, he returned to Machias where he got a job.
Polley said Widdecombe started to date Cabana and then fell in love, but it appeared Cabana was involved with others. The night before the murders he was to be at the Polley home, but did not show up.
Polley said she and her husband, John, felt remorse for the Cabana and Settipani families. She also said they have visited Widdecombe in jail and he also has expressed remorse.
Polley said afterward that Widdecombe had been severely abused.
“When he was just a little boy and the workers came to his home he didn’t even know what a mailbox was, he didn’t know what a garage was, he was eating out of a garbage can,” she said. “He has been abused almost every place that he has been.”
She said the Department of Health and Human Services told her that his family had moved and his brother was dead.
“When this came out on the news, his biological mother saw it on the news and came to see him,” Polley said. “He didn’t recognize her because it had been so many years.”
When Widdecombe entered a not guilty plea on April 28, 2008, his attorneys planned to argue that he was not responsible for the shootings because of mental defect.
“We had acquired some funding from the court for some independent evaluations, and those didn’t work out,” Mitchell said before the hearing. “The doctors looked at him and found that there was no evidence of, in laymen’s terms, an insanity defense.”
“There have been various reports done by various doctors that have looked at him,” Davidson said after the hearing. “They’ve all found different issues but none that have risen to a standard of not guilty by reason of mental defect. There are issues there that we are going to address at sentencing, but none of them met that legal threshold.”
Mitchell said Widdecombe has had a difficult time. “He has been struggling over there and he really wants to express his remorse,” Mitchell said. “That’s been his position all along, and he’ll have a chance to do that at the sentencing hearing. It is a tough situation for everybody that is involved.”
Davidson said Widdecombe made the decision to enter a guilty plea because he didn’t want to put the Cabana family through any more trauma.
“He was very close with Katie and the kids,” Davidson said. “They had a relationship, … and for Richard it was his first real relationship of his life and he didn’t want to put [the family] through a public trial.”
Although Davidson did not elaborate on Widdecombe’s treatment while in foster care, he said, “I have been doing this for a while and it is the most horrendous story that I have ever read or ever known about.”
He said that the abuse began the day Widdecombe was born. “Physical, sexual, you name it,” he said.
The Cabana and Settipani families are expected to make statements about the impact of the deaths on their families at the sentencing.