Mother glad her son died in cell rather than living out prison term

Posted Nov. 07, 2011, at 6:34 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 08, 2011, at 11:38 a.m.
Michael Chasse
Courtesy of Chasse family
Michael Chasse

MINOT, Maine — Jeannine Greenleaf hates to admit it, but she is relieved her son is dead. In fact, she prayed for his death.

Michael Chasse, 36 , died Nov. 3 in New Jersey State Prison. He was sentenced to be imprisoned until he was 95 years old for various crimes, including holding two people hostage at the Maine State Prison in 2008.

“I prayed so hard to God that Michael not have to live in prison for the rest of his life. I couldn’t imagine my son in his 30s being there in his 80s. I prayed God would take him in the night. Give him a heart attack. Just take him when he is sleeping and have him feel no pain. Take him out of his misery,” Chasse’s mother said Monday.

Greenleaf, 58, of Minot got her wish.

According to her, Chasse died in the night of a heart attack in his cell. He had no medical problems that would have spurred a heart attack, according to Greenleaf. The New Jersey Medical Examiner’s Office has yet to release an official cause of death.

Not many mothers would have wished death on their sons, but not many mothers have been through what Greenleaf has.

According to the mother, her son has had trouble behaving since at least kindergarten, when he was nearly kicked off the bus for the year because of his behavior, though she couldn’t remember exactly why. Though he grew to be 6 foot, 7 inches tall, he had been bullied his entire life, right through the time he was in Maine State Prison, she said.

During his teenage years, Chasse was often in trouble with police over drugs. Then, in 1997, when he was in his early 20s, Chasse was sent to prison for aggravated assault and robbery after he broke into the home of Robert Cohen in Brewer while armed with a knife. Cohen shot Chasse twice, claimed self-defense and was not charged in the incident.

After that, prison sentences kept stacking up. At his trial for the 1997 crimes, Chasse escaped by throwing laundry detergent into the eyes of two officers as they led him out of the courthouse. He then ran into a woman’s house and held her hostage briefly. When he left the house with a knife he took from the kitchen, he stabbed two police officers who confronted him. He then commandeered a pickup truck and fled again. He was arrested five hours later in a canoe on Sebec Lake.

On June 30, 2008, while incarcerated at the Maine State Prison, Chasse locked a librarian and another inmate in an office before stabbing the librarian several times, cutting the prisoner’s face and demanding pornography from prison staff. He held the two people hostage and effectively shut down all prison operations for about seven hours before police burst in through office windows and apprehended him.

Chasse never blamed his mother for his actions in life. Even he understood his death might ease the pain he seemed to be causing his mother, his older sister and three younger sisters, Greenleaf said. He twice tried to kill himself while in Maine State Prison.

“Michael said, ‘If I die you will feel just one more hurt. I won’t keep hurting you over and over and over again,’” Greenleaf recalled from some of the hundreds of letters and phone calls she shared with her son.

Greenleaf finds peace knowing that when Chasse died he was the happiest he had been in a long time. He liked the New Jersey prison, where he was transferred in January. She knew he was happy because of the letters he wrote.

“The [New Jersey] prison lets you have so much property in your room it don’t feel like you’re in jail. It feels like you are on house arrest. We’re allowed porn and tobacco. This place is exactly the type of place I want to spend my whole sentence at,” Chasse wrote in a letter in late March. “I’ve decided to try my hardest to be good as long as they keep me here.”

Plus, he wrote, he had a girlfriend. Greenleaf said that a woman from Bath had read news articles about Chasse during his trial for holding two people hostage in prison. She had dreams about him and began writing him letters. The two corresponded for several months and she was planning to visit him for his 37th birthday on Nov. 26.

The first time she will see Chasse will be at his funeral on Friday.

Part of what gives Greenleaf peace is knowing Chasse was loved.

“In the end, God took him before anything bad could happen to him again. He died with a happy heart. He died before he could be beaten or raped or anything by the prisoners. It’s scary but God took him before any bad things happened to him again,” Greenleaf said. “He was finally loved by someone other than his mother, unconditionally. He let go of all his hatred. I’m sure he will be in heaven. He did his penance on Earth.”

On Monday, as she prepared for her son’s funeral, she looked through old pictures — first-day-of-school pictures, birthday pictures — and she laughed with the rest of her family, remembering Chasse fondly.

“My heart will be warmed with his pictures,” Greenleaf said. “These pictures won’t be sorrowful for me. Michael is at peace. He won’t struggle any more.”

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