Garland lawyer’s defense at issue in review of criminal threatening conviction

Posted March 21, 2011, at 5:33 p.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A Garland lawyer was questioned on the witness stand Monday in Piscataquis County Superior Court about his alleged failure to properly defend a former client who was later convicted of criminal threatening, reckless conduct and violation of probation.

Mark Andrew Meech, 42, who filed a motion for post-conviction review based on ineffective counsel, has claimed there was jury tampering during his 2008 trial and that it was not immediately pursued by his court-appointed attorney, Randy Day.

Meech, who is serving a four-year prison term at the Charleston Correctional Facility, has asked Justice William Anderson to drop the charges against him, release him from prison and compensate him for wrongful incarceration. Anderson did not make an immediate ruling Monday.

Meech is now being represented by court-appointed attorney Dale Thistle of Newport.

Meech’s conviction stems from a tense encounter he had with an Embden woman in Elliotsville in 2008 while he was on probation. Meech confronted the 48-year-old woman, then known as Sara Camenga, while she was on a solo day hike on Borestone Mountain, and later attempted to commandeer her vehicle. Camenga, who has since remarried and is known as Sara Donovan, testified during the 2008 trial that she feared she would have been raped had she not been able to get away from Meech.

At the time of his encounter with the hiker, Meech was on probation for a 2002 conviction on four counts of burglary and one count each of cruelty to animals and operating a motor vehicle after revocation. In that case, Meech and another man burglarized four homes, and at one of the homes Meech shot and killed a dog and seriously wounded another dog.

Jan Ronco of Abbot, whose home was one of those burglarized and who owned the dogs, attended Meech’s 2008 trial involving the hiker. Meech and his sister, Dorothy Watson, alleged that during a break in the trial, Ronco had talked for several minutes with two jurors in the case. They both testified Monday that they told Day about the noontime encounter in the parking lot but alleged that Day failed to investigate their claim.

Ronco and Donovan both testified Monday that they had left and returned to the courthouse parking lot together during the 2008 trial and that Ronco had no contact with any of the jurors.  Ronco said she did not know any of the jurors personally nor did she speak to any of them. ‘’I had no contact,’’ Ronco said Monday in the courtroom.

Both Meech and Watson testified they had been sitting together in Watson’s vehicle during the noontime recess when they saw Ronco talking with two jurors.

Day, however, recalled on the stand that Meech and Watson told him in 2008 that they had been driving by the courthouse during the lunch recess when ‘’they thought’’ they saw one juror talking with Ronco. He said Meech hadn’t asked him to pursue it any further, nor did he because he felt if any contact had occurred it was probably incidental and had been just a greeting. Day said that had he been told in 2008 that the contact lasted five to 10 minutes, as Meech and Watson testified Monday, he would have handled it differently.

Meech said he raised the matter with Day at the end of the trial, but Day allegedly told him ‘’it wasn’t enough to bother addressing.’’ Day did eventually raise the issue in his closing statement, Meech recalled.

Piscataquis County Assistant District Attorney Susan Pope on Monday brought out the inconsistencies in both Watson’s and Meech’s statements regarding their alleged eyewitness reports, both in their testimony Monday and in 2008, when they first raised the issue with Day. She said Meech had testified that his sister first spotted Ronco and the jurors, while his sister said that she did not know Ronco and that it was Meech who first raised the issue. The two also differed as to the exact location of the alleged discussion between Ronco and the jurors.

The case isn’t solely about juror conduct, Thistle said. It’s also about ineffective counsel, which warrants a new trial. Thistle said the five- to 10-minute alleged encounter was ‘’more than an incidental contact. … It would raise my suspicions.’’ He said Day should have at least reported it to the court.

The issue at hand is a legal counsel’s obligation to the court and the constitution to maintain the sancity of the judicial process, Thistle said. ’’’The issue for me and my client is the tragedy of not having this brought to the court in the moment.’’

Pope said jurors polled in July 2010 reported there had been no contact between them and Ronco. In urging that the matter be dismissed, Pope said, ‘’There needs to be finality’’ for the parties involved.

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