High court hears arguments in machete attack case

Posted Oct. 14, 2011, at 11:50 a.m.
Daniel Fortune sits in Kennebec County Superior Court during his sentencing hearing in June 2010 in Augusta.
Joe Phelan | Kennebec Journal
Daniel Fortune sits in Kennebec County Superior Court during his sentencing hearing in June 2010 in Augusta.

LISBON, Maine — An attorney representing Daniel Fortune told the Maine Supreme Judicial Court this morning the two life sentences his client received for his role in the 2008 machete attacks that left a Pittston man and his 10-year-old daughter badly maimed are “excessive.”

“Nothing [Fortune] did, no step that he took, was substantial toward the death of the victims,” Fortune’s attorney, Arnold Clark, told the court Friday morning during a hearing held at Lisbon High School. “Two life sentences in an attempted murder case for an accomplice who never wielded a weapon is excessive.”

The court heard oral arguments in the case, as well as two others, at the high school as part of its annual fall tour of Maine schools.

Clark pointed to other cases involving more severe crimes, such as the recent sentencing of Eric Hamel to 45 years in prison for a double homicide in Rumford, as evidence the life sentences in Fortune’s case, where the victims survived, are too much.

But Justice Donald Alexander cited other Maine cases in which the length of the sentences, when given to criminals in their 40s or 50s, for crimes such as sexual misconduct were “effectively” life sentences.

“In your analysis, what would be the basic sentence for hacking up a man and then cutting out part of a 10-year-old’s brain?” Alexander asked Clark.

Clark argued that Fortune was not definitively found by the court to be the principal attacker in the incident, in which Fortune and foster brother Leo Hylton broke into the home of William Guerrette Jr. and left the man and his daughter permanently injured.

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

Alan Kelley, deputy district attorney for Kennebec County, argued before the state Supreme Court Friday that it was Fortune who was motivated to orchestrate the attack, as Guerrette was the state’s key witness in a case charging Fortune with stealing Guerrette’s safe — and its contents reportedly worth $111,000 — six months earlier. Kelley also took exception to Clark’s argument that Fortune never wielded a weapon in the May 27, 2008, home invasion, saying there’s evidence that he did.

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley responded to Clark’s argument that, because the victims did not die, the sentence is extreme. Both attorneys agreed that Fortune’s case represents the first time in Maine that someone has been sentenced to life in prison for attempted murder.

“The family of these two individuals will never have back their father, their husband and their daughter, because their lives have been irreparably damaged,” Saufley told Clark before a crowd of nearly 250 Lisbon High School students and faculty members.

“I think there are a number of cases in which the sentence or number of sentences amounted to life sentences [for a crime other than murder],” Kelley said, arguing the machete attack ranks as the most gruesome crime he has seen in the “hundreds and hundreds of violent cases” he has prosecuted.

Kelley described before the court a scene in which Guerrette was being attacked with a huge knife at the bottom of a staircase while watching his innocent daughter getting hacked at the top.

“This is a case of … nightmares,” Kelley said. “This is straight out of a horror movie or a slasher movie.”

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