Court upholds MDI rape convictions

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff
Posted June 11, 2009, at 10:52 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has upheld the convictions and sentences of a man and woman from Mount Desert Island who were found guilty in 2007 of raping at least two women.

Peter Mills, 51, and Stephanie Stark, 47, each were convicted two years ago of multiple counts of gross sexual assault. The assaults on three women, two in Bar Harbor and one in Surry, occurred in two separate incidents over a three-day period in June 2005. Mills is believed to have drugged the victims with tainted wine in order to make them unable to physically resist the attacks. Mills was convicted of raping three of the women, and Stark was convicted of raping two of them.

Mills and his former employer now are being sued in Hancock County Superior Court on civil charges of sexual harassment. Patty A. Smith of Mount Desert accuses Mills and Robert Brown, owner of Manset Yacht Service, of sexually harassing her on the job when she worked at the boatyard with Mills in 2005. Testimony in the civil trial began last month but has not resumed since May 27. A date for the civil trial to resume has not been set.

In 2007, Mills was sentenced on the criminal convictions to serve 10 years behind bars and Stark received a seven-year sentence. Both are believed to be serving their sentences at Maine State Prison in Warren.

In separate brief decisions, the Law Court decided Thursday that Justice William Brodrick did not err when he presided over Mills and Stark’s five-day trial in Penobscot County Superior Court two years ago. Attorneys separately representing Mills and Stark argued in the appeals that the defendants should have been tried separately and that the sentences were “unfairly long” and “wholly disproportionate.” Defense attorneys also suggested that Brodrick did not follow proper procedure when he wrote his sentencing analysis for Mills and Stark.

The Law Court ruled that Brodrick did not abuse his discretion in having the defendants tried together, in ruling on peremptory challenges during jury selection, and on allowing certain testimony. The Law Court declined to review the legality of the sentences, saying that the state’s sentence review panel already had denied the defendants’ requests for review and that there were no clear signs of improper procedure in the court record.

Stark’s attorney, Stephen C. Smith of Bangor, said Thursday that he was “disappointed” by the Law Court’s decision. He suggested Brodrick may have followed improper procedure when he signed his sentencing analysis of Mills and Stark on Sept. 25, 2007, two days before the attorneys, victims and Stark’s relatives addressed the court at the sentencing.

“We’re exploring our options to a higher authority,” Smith said. “I just got the decision this morning and haven’t talked to my client yet.”

Mills’ attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor, said Thursday that Mills felt it was prejudicial to have both defendants and both incidents prosecuted at the same trial. Silverstein also said that certain testimony should not have been admitted at the trial and that the judge should not have signed off on a sentencing analysis two days before the sentencing occurred.

“He’s obviously very disappointed,” Silverstein said of Mills. “He believes the issues we raised on appeal were of good merit.”

Hancock County District Attorney Michael Povich, who prosecuted the case, said Thursday that there is nothing improper with the judge preparing for a sentencing two days ahead of time. Brodrick took a 15-minute recess during the sentencing, Povich said, and likely made his decision final during that break. The judge may have simply dated the draft analysis and forgotten to change it when he made his decision, he said.

Povich said he wasn’t surprised by the Law Court ruling. He said he was pleased with it because it meant the victims in the case would not have to testify publicly again about what happened to them.

“It would have been difficult to retry it,” the prosecutor said.

btrotter@bangordailynews.net

460-6318

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/06/11/news/court-upholds-mdi-rape-convictions/ printed on July 11, 2014