Mother, son not allowed to say goodbye before she died in prison

Posted Nov. 22, 2011, at 7:42 p.m.
Mary Hoskins
Mary Hoskins

BELFAST, Maine — The woman who died of cancer in prison just one week after she began serving a two-year sentence for arson was not allowed to say goodbye to her son.

Mary Hoskins, 50, and Neal Hoskins, 28, both of North Anson, were co-defendants in the arson case and so were prohibited by the court from communicating.

Although attorneys were working to get the prohibition overturned in order to allow Mary Hoskins, who was terminally ill with ovarian cancer, to contact her son, they simply ran out of time, according to her attorney, Andrew Ketterer.

“It’s just sad. Some things in life are sad. This is one of them,” he said Tuesday. “The timing was unfortunate. It resulted in a woman going to her death without being able to talk to her son.”

He said that he didn’t feel that the state was to blame for the fact that the communication prohibition wasn’t lifted quickly enough to allow the Hoskins to say their goodbyes.

Mary Hoskins died Nov. 17 at the infirmary of Maine State Prison in Warren. She originally was incarcerated at the Maine Correctional Center’s Women’s Center in Windham but when she grew acutely ill she was moved to the infirmary in Warren.

“It’s not anybody’s fault. I’m not criticizing the prosecutor or the judge in any way. It was a very fair sentence,” Ketterer said. “I just felt badly that her son did not talk to her and she did not talk to her son.”

Both mother and son pleaded guilty this fall in connection with a fire that was set in September 2008 at the North Anson mobile home of Neal Hoskins. At the time, Mary Hoskins was living with her son. Police accused the two of setting the fire to collect insurance money.

Mary Hoskins, who previously had been convicted of setting fire to her home in Salem, Mass., in 1998, was sentenced to eight years in prison with all but two years suspended. Her son was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all but two years suspended.

During one of the criminal hearings on Mary Hoskins’ case, Ketterer told the judge that holding her in custody would be a life sentence because she was already so sick.

Efforts on Tuesday to reach Peter Barnett, Neal Hoskins’ attorney, and Somerset County District Attorney Evert Fowle were unsuccessful.

Ketterer said that he understands that the state has a “compelling interest” in making sure co-defendants in a criminal case are not allowed to talk to each other and compare notes.

“I just felt that once Neal had entered a guilty plea in September through his lawyer, and was sentenced, and once Mary entered her guilty plea on Tuesday, Nov. 8, it seemed to me that there was not such a compelling state interest in making sure that the two cannot speak,” Ketterer said.

Brent Davis, the prosecutor with Somerset Superior Court, said after Mary Hoskins’ sentencing that the communications ban could be lifted if both parties consented in writing. Ketterer wrote to Neal Hoskins in prison to ask for his agreement.

“He must have signed it the same day he received it,” Ketterer said.

But before the two defense attorneys could file a motion with the court to amend the order, Mary Hoskins died.

Ketterer said that his client had sent letters to her son when he was in jail before she was arrested for the same crime. Neal Hoskins never was allowed to receive those letters, he said.

It was difficult for his client, who was close to the son she had lived with for several years.

“She has two other children but was very close to Neal,” Ketterer said. “She was a woman who cared about her children. She tried to educate them and provide for them as best she could.”

She had a lot of sorrow in her life, the attorney said, but did not make excuses for her choice to commit a crime.

“A lot of people have adversity and don’t resort to committing arson,” he said. “I saw the side of the woman wearing handcuffs and leg irons without much time to live.”

BDN reporter Heather Steeves contributed to this report.

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