MACHIAS, Maine — The trial of a Baileyville man accused of taking a Princeton woman hostage in her home before he was forced out at gunpoint by the woman’s mother came to an abrupt end Tuesday afternoon when he decided to plead guilty to the 2009 incident.
Dean T. Moore’s trial began Tuesday morning in Washington County Superior Court, with Moore and the victims in the case, Vanessa and Doris Gatchell, each testifying during the morning session. Testimony ended around 11:45 a.m., immediately before the trial broke for lunch. Closing arguments were expected to begin around 1 p.m.
During the lunch break, however, Moore apparently decided he had had enough. The 36-year-old man pleaded guilty to charges of robbery, burglary, possession of a firearm by a felon, criminal threatening, theft, and criminal restraint. As a Class A crime, the robbery conviction carries a possible sentence of 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
“It is his choice,” Carletta Bassano, district attorney for Washington County, said after Moore entered his guilty pleas. “He chose to do that now.”
Why Moore waited until testimony in his trial had ended but before closing arguments got under way, she added, she did not know.
Bassano said that Moore’s decision to plead guilty, even at that late stage, likely would relieve some of the stress on the Gatchell family.
“They don’t have to think about [whether he’ll be found guilty] anymore,” the prosecutor said.
Moore’s defense attorney, Toff Toffolon, declined afterward to comment on the case or on his client’s decision to plead guilty.
A date for Moore’s sentencing has not yet been set.
The robbery happened June 12, 2009, after Doris Gatchell, 79, had left the Princeton home she shares with her daughter to run some errands in Baileyville.
Vanessa Gatchell, 52, testified Tuesday that she was watching television when she heard someone enter the South Princeton Road home a few minutes after her mother had left. She said she feared for her life when she found Dean Moore in the hallway of the house, holding a sawed-off shotgun in one hand and a steak knife in the other.
“I thought I was going to die,” Gatchell testified.
Moore demanded liquor, Gatchell said, so she gave him two bottles of wine but instead of leaving he ordered her into the living room, where they sat as he started to drink the wine. She said she offered him money and prescription pills to try to get him to leave, but he refused to go.
Doris Gatchell testified Tuesday that she returned home about 90 minutes later to find Moore and her daughter sitting in the living room. The older woman said she was surprised to see Moore sitting in her house and asked him what he was doing there but did not realize anything was wrong right away since the gun was hidden from her view. Moore simply told her he was talking and visiting with her daughter, she said.
A few minutes later, after Vanessa Gatchell managed to whisper to her mother in the kitchen that Moore had a gun, the older woman retrieved a handgun she had stashed in her bedroom. She said she and her deceased husband had operated a sporting goods store for 20 years, so she knew how to handle a firearm.
Doris Gatchell said she then went into the living room and addressed him as she stood behind where he was sitting.
When she first asked him if he had a gun, she said, he denied it. When she asked again, she said, he admitted he had a gun but said it wasn’t loaded.
“I said, ‘I also have a gun and it is loaded and you will get the hell out of my house now,’” Gatchell told the jury.
Moore walked out of the house with his shotgun and dropped it as he tripped over some flower pots on the front porch, she said. After he picked it up and left, the Gatchells called the police.
Moore later was arrested by police not far away at his father’s house in Baileyville, where he was living at the time.
Moore testified Tuesday morning that he was intoxicated during the incident. He said that before he entered the Gatchell’s house, he had set out walking from his father’s house to buy beer in Baileyville. He decided instead to see if there was any liquor at the Gatchell home.
Moore acknowledged entering the Gatchell’s house but said he did not think anyone was home. He said he was armed only with a flare gun, which he later threw away into brush by the side of the road. He said the gun police later seized at his father’s house, which they described as a sawed-off shotgun, is not the gun he had with him when Vanessa Gatchell found him in her house.
“She was upset. I can understand why,” Moore testified. “I was intoxicated.”
Moore insisted he never verbally threatened Gatchell, pointed the gun at her, or held the knife in a threatening manner. Under questioning by Bassano, however, he acknowledged on the stand that he entered the house with the intent to steal alcohol, that Vanessa Gatchell saw him holding a gun in her hallway, and that he refused to leave when she asked him to do so.
After the trial’s abrupt end, the Gatchells said outside the courthouse that they were glad Moore decided to plead guilty.
Vanessa Gatchell said she does not think Moore, who also has a prior robbery conviction from 1998, would leave another witness behind if he ever committed another robbery. Doris Gatchell said that, hopefully, there never will be a “next time” for Moore.
“Justice has been served,” Vanessa Moore said. “He won’t be doing this again to anyone else for a long time.”