Family rejects sentence in son’s death

Posted Nov. 03, 2009, at 8:08 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A Hampden man Tuesday told a Superior Court judge that sending the Newburgh man he believed caused his 17-year-old son’s death to jail for six months was not enough.

“Please tell me my son’s life is worth more than six months of this man’s time,” Daniel Clark said.

Michael Joseph Fortunato, 45, was sentenced in Penobscot County Superior Court to four years in prison with all but six months suspended and two years of probation for supplying teenagers with marijuana and prescription muscle relaxants at a March 21 party at his home. He was also ordered to pay a mandatory fine of $800.

Nathan Clark, who attended the party, was reported missing by his father about 9:30 p.m. the next day. The boy’s body was found four days later by a state game warden and a tracking dog near a gravel pit off Back Winterport Road.

The autopsy showed that he died of environmental hypothermia caused by a toxic dose of a prescription muscle relaxant, Daniel Clark told Justice William Anderson on Tuesday.

“Mr. Fortunato was the last adult to see my son alive,” the father said. “He provided a warm place for young people to consume drugs and alcohol. Another minor who was at the same party was taken to the hospital that weekend in respiratory distress.”

Nathan Clark’s mother, Denise Clark of Dixmont, told Anderson she did not think a six-month sentence was severe enough after she addressed the defendant directly.

“Michael, you preyed on young adults and children,” she said. “I have buried a son. Something no parent should have to do. I hope the court sees what an awful person you are and protects others from people like you.”

Deputy District Attorney Michael Roberts told the judge that if the case had gone to trial, the evidence would have shown that Fortunato had a party at his home attended by area teenagers and that he supplied them with a prescription muscle relaxant and alcohol. He said that he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Fortunato furnished Nathan Clark with the toxic level of the drug that the autopsy showed the teenager had in his system when he died.

Fortunato, who had no criminal history, was indicted in May by the Penobscot County grand jury on two counts of aggravated unlawful furnishing of scheduled drugs, unlawful furnishing of scheduled drugs and allowing a minor to possess or consume alcohol. The charges were elevated because he supplied the drugs to minors.

He faced up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 on the charges to which he plead.

In a plea agreement with the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office, Fortunato pleaded no contest to the charge of aggravated unlawful furnishing of the muscle relaxant and guilty to the charge of aggravated unlawful furnishing of marijuana. The other two charges were dismissed.

Defense attorney Richard Hartley told Anderson his client pleaded no contest to one of the charges due to the possibility that the Clarks might sue Fortunato, seeking damages in connection with their son’s death, and because of conflicting testimony about the distribution of the muscle relaxant that most likely would have been presented at a trial.

The Clarks told Anderson that while they understood why Roberts had made the agreement he did, they did not agree with it.

Just before the sentence was imposed, Fortunato faced the Clarks and apologized.

“I’m very sorry for what happened,” he said, his voice full of emotion. “If I could change it, I would. Please try to forgive, but never forget. I’m sorry.”

His probation conditions include no contact with minors at his home or other private locations, no use of illegal drugs or alcohol and testing for their use.

Fortunato is to begin serving his sentence at the Penobscot County Jail on Friday.

SEE COMMENTS →

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business

Similar Articles

More in Bangor