DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Michael Toby, 54, of Dover-Foxcroft was so down on life that he was suicidal before and up to the day he killed his sister a year and a half ago, his defense attorney said Friday in Piscataquis County Superior Court.
Toby has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to an indictment of murder in connection with the death of his sister Rosalie Shedd, 70, at her Aaron Drive apartment in Dover-Foxcroft on Oct. 23, 2008.
While Toby has confessed to striking his sister over the head with a stick several times, strangling and suffocating her after the pair had “words,” he said he was unable to control his actions that day.
“Something just let go,” he told state police detectives in a taped interview that was played Thursday in the courtroom.
After losing his job in Augusta, Toby said, he felt useless and angry.
Closing arguments were heard Friday after two days of testimony. Justice William Anderson, who is presiding over the jury-waived trial, said he would render a verdict Thursday. If convicted, Toby could face 25 years to life in prison.
“I want him to get life with no parole,” Shedd’s daughter Melanie Eastman of Atkinson said in an interview Friday before the trial resumed. “I want the system to slowly — every second of every minute of every day — to suck the life out of him the way he did my mother. She was my world, and she’s gone.”
Eastman recalled that when a severe medical condition put Shedd in the hospital in 2004, she refused to “pull the plug” when hospital officials said her mother would be brain-dead.
“I stood at her bedside morning, noon and night for 15 days begging her to come back to me, and she did. She opened her eyes and I said, ‘I love you,’ and she said, “I love you too’ in return, and to go all through that and for me to lose her now …”
Eastman, who found her mother’s battered body, said her mother was a fighter, a survivor and a very strong woman.
“I’ve had a constant video camera going on in my mind of the events of the day I found her,” Eastman said tearfully. “It’s constant. When I go to bed at night it’s still playing, and when I get up in the morning it starts where it left off. It’s just a burnt image in my mind.”
Chris Smith of Dover-Foxcroft, Toby’s court-appointed attorney, said Friday in court that his client was severely impaired on the day of the killing and was unable to control his impulses because he suffered from depression, had paranoia and schizoid disorders, and was agoraphobic.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, who is prosecuting the case, admitted that Toby was “seriously disturbed,” that he was a “broken human being,” and that his mental illness could have been a mitigating factor in the murder.
But he said the testimony showed that Toby gave at least 11 blows to Shedd’s body, that he applied enormous force to strangle her with a vacuum cleaner cord, and that he placed a plastic bag over her head to make sure she died. The only rational inference one can draw from that is that Toby meant to cause Shedd’s death, Ben-son said. People who are depressed and angry make bad decisions, but they don’t murder, he said.
Benson said Toby’s “conduct [was] entirely focused on Rosalie Shedd” that day. Toby told police after the murder that he had an internal struggle about whether he was going to strike Shedd. This, Benson said, shows that there was decision-making going on in Toby’s mind. He also noted that Toby took Shedd’s money — esti-mated at $800 — with him when he left the apartment. “There is no evidence that Toby lacked the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his crime,” he said.
Smith recalled that Toby told a relative weeks before the slaying that he had suicidal thoughts. Toby told police he had taken a rope with him after he killed his sister intending to hang himself, but the beer he consumed later that night put him to sleep.
It’s not a case about what happened but why it happened, Smith said. It was Toby’s mental illness that made him unable to participate in society, to cope and ultimately to control his actions on Oct. 23, 2008, he said. “Mr. Toby could not meaningfully choose or control his actions,’ he said.