Life sentence is too severe for machete attack on Pittston father, daughter, lawyer says

Posted Oct. 12, 2011, at 5:57 p.m.
Daniel Fortune sits in Kennebec County Superior Court during his sentencing hearing in June 2010 in Augusta.
Joe Phelan | AP
Daniel Fortune sits in Kennebec County Superior Court during his sentencing hearing in June 2010 in Augusta.

LISBON, Maine — Daniel Fortune is the first person in Maine sentenced to life in prison for attacking people who did not succumb to their injuries.

He was convicted by a jury of maiming a Pittston father and daughter in a May 27, 2008, home invasion and machete attack considered to be one of the most heinous crimes in the state’s history.

Students at Lisbon High School will hear oral arguments in Fortune’s appeal Friday when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court concludes its annual fall road trip.

The legal questions the court will consider include whether there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that premeditation and extreme cruelty were proven on the aggravated attempted murder count. Justices also will review for the first time whether a judge can impose a life sentence when a victim did not die.

On June 24, 2010, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy sentenced Fortune, now 23, of Augusta in Kennebec County Superior Court to two concurrent life sentences, according to a previously published report. He was convicted by a jury on May 14, 2010, after a trial held at Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan.

Fortune’s roommate and foster brother Leo R. Hylton, now 21, participated in the machete attack that left William Guerrette Jr. and Nicole Guerrette, then 10, close to death and permanently injured.

The attack on the Guerrette family came six months after Fortune stole a safe from the Guerrette home containing $111,000 worth of property, including $30,000 in cash, according to previously published reports. Fortune and Hylton, according to briefs filed in the appeal, went to the home armed with a machete and a long knife to keep William Guerrette from testifying against Fortune.

Both men were charged with aggravated attempted murder, attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault, robbery, burglary and conspiracy to commit robbery. Hylton, who testified against Fortune, pleaded guilty to all but the aggravated attempted murder charge.

Hylton was sentenced by Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills on Feb. 26, 2010, in Kennebec County Superior Court to 90 years in prison with all but 50 suspended.

Fortune’s attorney Arnold Clark of Waterville said Wednesday that he expects the justices will ask quite a few questions about the life sentences imposed.

“Just recently there have been sentencings in a couple of double homicide cases in Maine where life sentences were not imposed,” said Clark, who was not Fortune’s trial attorney. “In this case, nobody died. That’s a big difference legally. Of course, there is continuing trauma that goes along with surviving but that’s a different thing than murder in the eyes of the law.”

Alan Kelley, deputy district attorney for Kennebec County, said Wednesday that the life sentences were justified.

“I’m starting my 33rd year of prosecuting cases,” Kelley, who prosecuted Fortune, said in a telephone interview Wednesday, “and there’s no doubt that this is at the top of scale in terms of being a heinous crime. That one human being would do what he did to the victims in this case is incomprehensible.”

Kelley wrote in his brief that the state’s high court previously has ruled that for a life sentence to be imposed in a murder case the infliction of “gratuitous suffering” must be present.

“The attacks upon William and Nicole were carried out with fearsome and terrifying weapons, large heavy knives capable of cutting flesh and bone,” he wrote. “Either weapon was suitable for the infliction of a single blow to a vital organ or artery of its intended victim; however, the men attacked their victims in an almost random fashion, hacking repeatedly at the heads and bodies of the two victims. No one wound was fatal, but the multiplicity of wounds that were inflicted assuredly would have resulted in the slow and tortured death of both victims from the loss of blood, but for timely emergency medical intervention.”

Clark argued in his brief that Murphy gave “insufficient weight” to Fortune’s age, which judges are obligated to take into consideration when fashioning a sentence. Fortune was 22 when he was sentenced and 20 at the time of offense.

“Undoubtedly, the seriousness of the impact of a life sentence on an offender is inversely related to the age of the offender,” Clark wrote. “A life sentence is the ‘harshest penalty’ available in the State of Maine. The impact a life sentence imposes on a 22-year-old offender is significantly more serious than the impact of a life sentence imposed on a 62-year-old.”

Clark argued in his brief that Murphy should have imposed a period of imprisonment and a period of probation as her colleague did in Hylton’s case.

“The court’s failure to mitigate the maximum sentence downward to a term of years constitutes an abuse of discretion.”

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