PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld the conviction of a Fort Fairfield man on a sex charge.
David Churchill, 27, of Fort Fairfield was sentenced in February to 2½ years in prison with all but a year suspended. A jury in January found him not guilty of the more serious charge of gross sexual assault but guilty of unlawful sexual contact.
Churchill’s attorney, Hunter Tzovarras of Bangor, appealed the case to state’s high court. He argued before the justices when they convened in Bangor last month that a chat log of online conversations between Churchill and the 13-year-old victim, who was coached by Bangor detectives in an attempt to get Churchill to confess, was admitted improperly as evidence and not properly authenticated.
Susan Pope, assistant district attorney for Penobscot County, disagreed. She argued that the chat log was admitted correctly.
The court agreed with Pope in its eight-page opinion.
“Here the time stamps on each message show an uninterrupted sequence, the messages respond logically to one another, and Churchill’s messages respond directly to statements the victim made over the telephone,” Justice Warren Silver wrote for the court. “Other evidence established that Churchill was the person with whom the victim was chatting.”
Last month, the court issued a memorandum of decision in another appeal in which it heard oral arguments in November. Justices upheld the conviction of Mitchell Sounier, 27, of Bangor but did not explain the reasons for their decision.
Sounier was sentenced in September 2010 to 12 years in prison after a conviction for sexually assaulting a 5-year-old relative on Thanksgiving Day 2009.
Tzovarras, who represented Sounier, argued to justices that statements Sounier made to police should have been suppressed. The attorney said in his brief that Bangor police’s tactics were unconstitutionally coercive and that they entered Sounier’s father’s house, where the younger Sounier lived, without consent.
Pope argued in her brief that although Sounier’s father at first was reluctant to let police in because he thought they wanted to interview him, the older man voluntarily let police in the house. She also argued that legal precedent backs up how police conducted the interview.