WISCASSET, Maine — After an emotional hearing that lasted hours, Earl “Buddy” Bieler III and Corina Durkee were sentenced to prison on Monday for their roles in the stabbing murder of Rachel Grindal and attempted murder of Tracey Neild in Waldoboro last year.
Bieler, 25, was sentenced by Justice Andrew Horton in Lincoln County Superior Court to serve 55 years in prison for murdering the 27-year-old Grindal and attempting to murder Neild the night of April 19, 2009, at Neild’s home on Controversy Lane. Durkee, 44, was sentenced to 15 years for her role as an accomplice in the crimes.
Neild, the Waldoboro woman whose life — and voice — were almost permanently silenced when her throat was slashed last year by the two people she thought were her friends, finally spoke Monday during the hearing.
“I will never be the same again,” she said as she breathed with shuddering gasps through a tracheotomy tube. “They have made me a prisoner within myself.”
The sentences are not enough, said Neild, 33, whose throat was cut so deeply her head was almost severed from her body.
“Justice was not served today,” she said after the hearing.
It was the first time she had faced her attackers since the terrifying night that Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea described as a “bloodbath.”
“I knew I was going to die. … I will never forget [Bieler’s] eyes, the way he looked at me,” Neild said. “I have lived the past year in constant fear of Corina and Buddy. I have not seen one ounce of remorse from either one of them since that horrible night.”
Both Bieler and Durkee last month pleaded guilty to Grindal’s murder — Bieler to charges of murder, aggravated attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault, burglary and theft, and Durkee to the lesser charges of felony murder, attempted murder and burglary.
Bieler, a slight man in street clothes who was shackled at the hands and feet, stood up to give a statement to Grindal’s family, Neild and Justice Horton. He said he did not have a good explanation for what happened that night and he could not apologize enough.
“I can’t ask you to forgive me because I’ll never forgive myself,” Bieler said. “I don’t understand myself what happened. I don’t fathom it. I don’t know if I ever will.”
Zainea said the violent attacks in Neild’s driveway came as the culmination of an hours-long “crime spree” which began after Grindal and Neild apparently drove Durkee and Bieler to the home of a Warren woman where Bieler tried to collect on a drug debt.
After a verbal and physical confrontation there, Durkee and Bieler — who were romantically involved — were dropped off at their home on Dutch Neck Road. From there, Zainea said, they went to Goodnow’s Market in Waldoboro at about 7 p.m., where Bieler brandished a handgun at the cashier and then stole some alcohol. The two then continued to Neild’s home to collect some money they thought Neild owed them.
During these events, Durkee was always at Bieler’s side, Zainea said.
“She was not an innocent bystander,” she said.
But DNA and blood spatter evidence at the scene has shown it was Bieler who wielded the knife, first across Neild’s throat, Zainea said, then into Grindal, who was still behind the wheel of her mother’s minivan.
Neild told the court that she firmly believes the evidence is not correct.
“Corina jumped on my back and cut my throat. I felt hot liquid all over me,” she said.
Neild and her family said they did not agree with the plea bargain state prosecutors made with Durkee’s defense attorney Philip Cohen.
“Please do not accept Corina’s plea,” Neild urged the justice. “How can 10 years in the Women’s Center be justice?”
Cohen said after the hearing that, with good behavior, his client might be released after 11 years in custody.
Bieler had not made a plea bargain, but during the hearing, Zainea recommended he serve a 70-year sentence.
Durkee and Bieler showed little emotion during the hearing, even when Grindal’s mother talked about the death of her daughter, who had a strong “creative soul.”
“She had hopes. Those hopes and dreams were slashed, along with her life,” Rita Grindal said.
Rachel had a little boy, Gavin, who “adored” his mother, Rita Grindal said.
“He felt he had to give his Mother’s Day present last year to his teacher, because his mother was dead,” she said. “Gavin’s hurt and confused that his mom’s friends killed her.”
Madalynn Wiggins, whom Rachel had married in a Massachusetts ceremony a year before her death, said the murder has changed everything for her.
“Rachel had a kind heart and a giving nature,” Wiggins said, her voice breaking. “She would say to many of our friends that Buddy and Corina were among her dearest friends and that she would trust them with her life.”
While Grindal’s family members talked about their and Gavin’s loss, Neild’s family and friends said they have seen the injured woman change from an active, confident person to a frightened, discouraged one.
Although many — including Bieler and his attorney, William Avantaggio — described the crimes as incomprehensible, Zainea said she could think of one reason to explain the savage attacks.
“He didn’t want any witnesses to his conduct,” she said of Bieler.
After he stabbed Grindal and Neild, Bieler “took off” after a third woman who had ridden in the minivan. Witness Shantelle Quint fled the scene through the woods to get help at a neighbor’s house, with Bieler in pursuit.
“It was to eliminate her,” Zainea said.
Avantaggio told the justice he “wished” he could offer an explanation of the crimes his client admitted committing. He shared some of Bieler’s history as Neild and her family listened, stony-faced.
“He got into drugs early and hasn’t gotten off them,” Avantaggio said of Bieler.
Bieler also told his attorney that he had been molested by a guard at a Maine youth correctional center, and that the death of his sister five years ago has seriously affected him.
“There isn’t any indication that he woke up that day with the intent that any of this would occur,” Avantaggio said. “There is more to Buddy than what brings him here today.”
Justice Horton didn’t seem persuaded.
“Bieler’s tough times perhaps explain his actions, but they don’t excuse them,” he said. “This was a savage, brutal killing that has no explanation.”
Ultimately, Bieler was sentenced to 55 years in prison for murder, with no probation. While incarcerated, he also will serve a total of 84 years of concurrent sentences for aggravated attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault, Class A burglary and theft.
Rita Grindal looked relieved as she and her husband left the courtroom.
“I feel it was fair,” she said of Bieler’s sentence.
Zainea said she was pleased by the prison time imposed by the court.
“It will allow the victims to move forward with their lives,” she said after the hearing.