ELLSWORTH, Maine — A Blue Hill man is arguing in court that charges against him of criminal threatening, terrorizing and assault should be dismissed because, contrary to what prosecutors told the victim in his case before trial, he did not kill his previous wife.
Keovilaisack Sayasane, 44, is accused of threatening to harm his current wife last summer with a hammer and ax at their home on Kingdom Road. Earlier this month, Sayasane filed an appeal with the state supreme court arguing that, because of the inaccurate information and the effect it had on his current wife, he cannot get a fair trial.
Sayasane’s trial got under way July 20 in Hancock County Superior Court but the judge, Justice Kevin Cuddy, ended up declaring a mistrial in the abbreviated proceeding. Because it ended in mistrial instead of an acquittal, prosecutors will be able to retry the case.
According to Sayasane’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Toothaker of Ellsworth, his client was confident in the days before the trial started that his wife was going to testify favorably about him. But on the morning his trial was to begin, when Sayasane found out prosecutors had told his wife that he had stabbed his previous wife to death 25 years ago, his reaction was adamant, Toothaker said.
“He said, ‘I stabbed a MAN,’” the defense attorney said Tuesday.
In 1987, Sayasane was found guilty of manslaughter for stabbing another man to death in Hampden on Thanksgiving Day of the previous year, according to records of the case. The killing occurred after he and the man were playing cards and began to argue, according to published reports and official records of the incident.
According to Toothaker, there is no way to retry the case without introducing testimony about the miscommunication over Sayasane’s manslaughter conviction. Informing the jury about the prior conviction would be prejudicial against his client, he said, which would make a fair trial impossible.
According to a transcript of Sayasane’s July 20 trial, Toothaker and the prosecutor in the case, Assistant Hancock County District Attorney Mary Kellett, each told Justice Kevin Cuddy that the incorrect information was provided to Kellett by Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, head of the Attorney General’s Office’s criminal division. Toothaker and Kellett each wanted to know the particulars of Sayasane’s 1987 manslaughter conviction before the new trial got under way, even though such information was not going to be presented to the jury, Toothaker told the judge.
On Thursday, however, Stokes said he never provided any information to Kellett that indicated that the victim in the manslaughter case was Sayasane’s previous wife, or even that the victim was a woman. Stokes said he had no prior knowledge of the case before Kellett contacted him about it, and so had to go look up the information in case summaries that are kept on file at the Attorney General’s Office in Augusta.
The summary, Stokes said, indicates that the victim in the 1986 stabbing was a 21-year old man named Boudone Meuaneboutdy who was a friend of Sayasane’s. He said that is the information he forwarded to Kellett.
“Where the wife part came in, I have no knowledge,” Stokes said.
Contacted Thursday, Kellett directed questions about the case to Carletta “Dee” Bassano, district attorney for Hancock and Washington counties.
Bassano declined to comment about how the misunderstanding about Sayasane’s manslaughter conviction came about. She said she did not want to comment in detail about the pending case against Sayasane, but did say that she feels the trial should have proceeded on July 20.
“We do not agree with Jeff Toothaker’s version of events here,” Bassano said. “We respect the court, but we do not agree with Justice Cuddy’s ruling.”
The trial started, however, on July 20 before Toothaker could confirm that Sayasane’s wife had been given the wrong information. That day, Toothaker was still allowed by the judge, according to the trial transcript, to question her out of the presence of the jury about her reaction to being told two days earlier that her husband had stabbed and killed his previous wife.
Toothaker wanted to establish that the information, true or not, had an impact on the victim’s state of mind and would affect her testimony.
“It crushed me,” the wife said on the witness stand. “It made me doubt the type of person that I am to be married to a man that could kill a woman.”
While being questioned by Toothaker she said that before being given that information she had been inclined to testify favorably about her husband despite the alleged incident between them last summer, according to the transcript. She said that the information she received about her husband’s manslaughter conviction changed her opinion of her husband and her feelings about how she would testify.
Toothaker filed a motion for acquittal, which Cuddy initially denied. After the jury was brought back in, however, the judge seems to have changed his mind when Sayasane’s wife testified that Sayasane had called her on July 19, the night before the trial.
She said that Sayasane had encouraged her not to show up to testify at his trial, according to the transcript. If she didn’t, he would take care of her and they could live happily together, she said. If she did testify, Sayasane allegedly told her, his attorney would make her look like a bad mother and their children would be taken from her.
After sending the jury back out of the room, Cuddy said that the testimony opened a “gaping door” for potential questioning by Toothaker into other factors that might have had an effect on the victim’s existing state of mind.
“Once that begins going down that road, we’re talking about prior manslaughter convictions and some fundamental significant prejudice to the defendant,” Cuddy said, according to the transcript.
The transcript indicates that Kellett argued that whether Sayasane’s wife knows the gender of the manslaughter victim should have no bearing on the trial because it is irrelevant to the pending allegations and would not be brought up in testimony, but to no avail. The judge then granted Toothaker’s motion for acquittal and, later that same afternoon, apparently changed his mind again and declared a mistrial.
It is not clear from the transcript why the judge changed his mind.
It is Cuddy’s ruling for a mistrial that Sayasane is appealing to the state supreme court.
“I think Cuddy got it right the first time,” Toothaker said. “[Sayasane] cannot get a fair trial.”
No date has been set for the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to hear the appeal.