High court to hear appeal in Bangor stabbing death, stream arguments online

Posted March 31, 2012, at 3:38 p.m.
Last modified April 01, 2012, at 5:42 p.m.
Colin Koehler of Bangor sits in the court room during his sentencing at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor in June 2011. Justice William Anderson imposed a life sentence on Koheler for the 2009 murder of Holly Boutilier.
Colin Koehler of Bangor sits in the court room during his sentencing at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor in June 2011. Justice William Anderson imposed a life sentence on Koheler for the 2009 murder of Holly Boutilier. Buy Photo
Holly Boutilier
Courtesy of Boutilier family
Holly Boutilier
The small, makeshift shack in Bangor where the body of Holly Boutilier, 19, of Old Town was found in August 2009 is situated between the retaining wall of the nearby railroad tracks and the Penobscot River.
The small, makeshift shack in Bangor where the body of Holly Boutilier, 19, of Old Town was found in August 2009 is situated between the retaining wall of the nearby railroad tracks and the Penobscot River.

PORTLAND, Maine — The appeal of a man serving a life sentence for a “thrill killing” on the Bangor waterfront will be heard by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court later this month.

Colin Koehler, 37, of Bangor was sentenced in June to life in prison in the stabbing death of 19-year-old Holly Boutilier on Aug. 8, 2009, in a cluttered shack on the Bangor waterfront. Koehler was found guilty by a jury of intentional or knowing murder in October 2010 after a five-day trial at the Penobscot Judicial Center. The courthouse is less than a mile from where the Old Town woman’s body was found about 24 hours after she died.

Koehler testified in his own defense and denied killing Boutilier.

In sentencing Koehler, who had no criminal or violent history, Superior Court Justice William Anderson called Boutilier’s murder “a premeditated execution done in an extremely cruel fashion.” The judge also said that “there was absolutely no explanation for [the defendant’s] conduct that made sense” and that Koehler’s motivation for stabbing his victim was “virtually the same as killing for the thrill of killing, accompanied by a thought that what you’re killing is not worth anything.”

Oral arguments in Koehler’s appeal and others that justices will consider April 11-13 at the Cumberland County Courthouse will be streamed live over the Internet for the first time.

Members of the legal community and the public will be able to hear arguments made by attorneys and questions asked by the seven members of Maine’s high court on their computers and other electronic devices. Audio, but not video, will be streamed live, according to Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the judiciary. The court will use NetroMedia, the same firm that streams video for the Legislature.

Koehler’s attorney Peter Cyr of Portland appealed his client’s conviction and sentence. In his 55-page brief filed with the state Supreme Court in Portland, Cyr argued that the judge erred in a dozen instances including when he imposed a sentence of life.

While it is hard to predict which of the issues raised by Cyr the justices will focus on, there most likely will be questions about the sentence, which Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, who prosecuted the case, called a “thrill kill” when he asked that Koehler be sentenced to life.

In previous cases, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court laid out the circumstances that must be present for a defendant to be sentenced to life in prison for murder in a case called State of Maine v. John Shortsleeves. The justices cited seven conditions under which a judge may impose a life sentence.

They are:

• Premeditation.

• Murder accompanied by torture, sexual abuse or other extreme cruelty inflicted on the victim.

• Murder committed in a penal institution by an inmate.

• Multiple victims.

• Murder of a hostage.

• A previous murder conviction.

• Murder of an on-duty law enforcement officer.

A “thrill kill” is not a reason to impose a life sentence. Although Anderson did not use those exact words in sentencing Koehler, if justices uphold his life sentence, “thrill kill” could be added to the Shortsleeves list.

Anderson said he imposed life because the crime was premeditated.

Defense attorney Cyr in his brief described the murder of Boutilier as “an impulsive act of a confused and distraught lover.”

“The evidence at trial revealed that, at the time, Mr. Koehler was involved in a tumultuous romantic relationship with Jessica Palmer and that Ms. Palmer had called Mr. Koehler on the night before Ms. Boutilier’s death, expressing her extreme anger and jealousy about the fact that Ms. Boutilier was at Mr. Koehler’s apartment,” Cyr wrote. “Thus, the following day was not a senseless act of sadism but rather an impulsive act of romantic love, albeit very misguided; in Mr. Koehler’s mind, during that impulsive act, he was proving his love of Ms. Palmer and disproving the existence of any romantic or sexual feeling for Ms. Boutilier.”

In addition to the sentence, Cyr has appealed pre- and post-trial motions, including a request in May 2011 for a new trial after a witness came forward and said he had seen Boutilier before she died with two men, neither of whom was Koehler. John Whitney later changed his story after being interviewed by Bangor police detectives.

His story contradicted the testimony of Justin Ptaszynski, 30, of Bangor, who told the jury at Koehler’s murder trial that he saw the defendant stab Boutilier to death, according to a previously published report. Ptaszynski, who is serving six years in prison, also identified the murder weapon as the one Koehler wielded the afternoon of the slaying.

Cyr argued in his brief that Whitney’s statements to the defense teams’ private investigator should have been admitted.

Oral arguments in Koehler’s appeal are scheduled for 11:40 a.m. Thursday, April 12. To listen to oral arguments before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court April 11-13, visit www.courts.state.me.us/maine_courts/supreme.

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