Prosecutor calls machete attack ‘unimaginable’

Posted May 06, 2010, at 7:39 a.m.

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — A family lay asleep when the burglar alarm sounded. Within seconds, intruders were in the house, armed with a machete. The mother jumped out a second-story window to save herself, a teenage son fled through a basement door and another daughter hid under her bed.

With blood dripping into his eyes, William Guerrette fumbled for a gun and warned his 10-year-old daughter to stay in her bedroom before slumping to the floor, calling out for help.

Deputies arrived at the Pittston home to find Guerrette lying in a pool of blood. His daughter Nicole was lying on her bed, her skull laid open by a blow to the head.

“What happened, quite frankly, is unthinkable, unimaginable,” said Deputy District Attorney Alan Kelley, describing the gruesome attack for jurors in Somerset County Superior Court.

Nearly two years after the attack maimed father and daughter, the second of two foster brothers went on trial Thursday for numerous counts including attempted murder.

Daniel Fortune’s trial ushers in the closing chapter in a case that began with the 2007 theft of a safe and escalated with the brutal attack on May 27, 2008. Fortune’s foster brother, Leo Hylton, pleaded guilty to his role in the attack and was sentenced in February to 50 years in prison.

While Hylton has admitted his part in the crime, Fortune can still be convicted if jurors find that he aided his foster brother in the attacks, Kelley said.

Defense lawyer Pamela Ames told jurors that the crime was all Leo Hylton’s doing.

The attack in the town of 2,600 happened after the Guerrette family had attended a barbecue. All were in bed and asleep when the burglar alarm, installed after the family’s safe was stolen, sounded at 1:52 a.m.

Because there had been false alarms previously, Kelley said, Guerrette didn’t grab his 9 mm handgun before he went to investigate. In the hallway, he shouted, “Get out, get out!” when he encountered a tall intruder, Kelley said. After the first blow to his face and head, Guerrette managed to grab his gun but it clicked when he pulled the trigger.

His wife, who jumped 20 feet to the ground, ran through woods to a neighbor’s house to call for help. Their other daughter, hiding under her bed, also dialed 911.

The violence was not a random act.

In November 2007, a safe containing $30,000 in cash, as well as rare coins and historic bank notes valued at more than $100,000, was stolen from Guerrette’s home while he was out of state on vacation and his 18-year-old son, a high-school friend of Fortune’s, hosted a party.

Later, the safe was stolen, and Fortune and a second man were charged with the theft. The second man pleaded guilty in April 2008 and was sent to jail.

The following year, Fortune and Hylton decided to go to the Guerrette home to collect a $900 debt they said Fortune was owed by the family’s teenage son, Ryan, said Ames.

Fortune stayed in the car outside the house until he heard the alarm, Ames said. He went inside and saw Hylton hacking at the daughter while Guerrette was sprawled on the floor, she said.

Nicole, who police at first thought was dead, spent six weeks in the hospital. Guerrette, who had an eight-week hospital stay, lost a finger, suffered severe head and arm injuries.

Hylton’s request in January to change his guilty plea was rejected by the curt.

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