PORTLAND, Maine — An attorney representing a Standish woman convicted of beating her husband nearly to death with a baseball bat told the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday his client, Linda Dolloff, was denied a fair trial.
Defense attorney Verne E. Paradie Jr. told the state’s highest court that the conduct of Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson during the 2010 trial “crossed the line between what is appropriate and what is not appropriate.” Paradie argued that Anderson attacked the integrity of Daniel Lilley, the lawyer representing Dolloff during the trial, and subjected the jury to her opinions on the case rather than presenting the hard evidence.
Anderson’s office was represented at Wednesday’s hearing before the high court by Assistant District Attorney Anne Berlind, who argued that the jury convicted Dolloff based on the evidence, not the prosecutor’s style of delivery.
Dolloff is serving a 16-year sentence for attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault and filing a false police report in connection with an April 12, 2009, incident in which authorities believe she attacked her sleeping husband with a bat and shot herself in the hip to make it look like a home invasion. The couple was going through a divorce at the time.
The state’s case against Dolloff is largely circumstantial, as Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley said Wednesday, with inconclusive blood-spatter evidence, mixed DNA on two weapons and no eyewitnesses.
Dolloff has maintained all along the crime was committed by an intruder, and Paradie said after Wednesday’s hearing that the woman’s family believes she was wrongfully convicted. A group of women, including two of Dolloff’s sisters, discussed the case briefly with Paradie after the hearing but refused requests to talk to reporters.
“I think the family has always believed Linda is innocent and it’s hard for them to see her incarcerated for a crime she didn’t commit,” Paradie told members of the media after Dolloff’s supporters departed.
Arguments before the high court centered on Anderson’s conduct. Paradie told the justices the district attorney distracted jurors by taking shots at Lilley’s character and suggesting the defense was attempting to hide information from them. Paradie said Anderson “violated proper conduct” in the case by repeatedly straying from the hard evidence to make her case, choosing instead to stoke emotional responses in the jurors.
Among the examples of alleged improper conduct cited by Paradie was an instance in which Anderson swung a bat in the courtroom to prove a woman could handle a weapon of that weight. In another, he said, Anderson told jurors the family dog could be heard whimpering in the background of Dolloff’s 911 call that day because the dog “saw Mommy trying to kill Daddy.”
Justice Joseph Jabar agreed that referencing the dog’s reaction without calling an animal expert to testify about why the dog might have been whimpering was “in effect turning the dog into a witness.”
Other justices also questioned Anderson’s apparent focus on Lilley during the trial, pointing to what were described as several offhand comments made throughout the proceedings.
“Is it a fair trial to ask the jury to judge the defense attorney rather than the evidence?” Justice Jon Levy asked.
“How can we identify when the cumulative effects of marginal comments denies the defendant a fair trial?” Justice Andrew Mead said.
But Berlind told the court Anderson’s word choices weren’t enough to change the verdict in the case, asserting instead that the jury arrived at its conclusion because of the evidence presented. She said during Wednesday’s hearing that detectives could find no evidence of a “third-party assailant” even after an exhaustive investigation.
“The majority of the statements that are now complained about in appeal were not objected to during the trial,” Berlind pointed out to the justices on Wednesday.
Saufley said during the hearing that the job of prosecutors is to convince a jury of the guilt of the defendant and suggested it would be naive to expect a prosecutor to do that job without betraying a belief that the defendant is indeed guilty.
“Wouldn’t a jury be surprised to see a prosecutor say, ‘Your job is to do justice, and I’m not sure what justice is,’” Saufley said.
After the hearing, which lasted about 40 minutes, Paradie said he expected the justices’ decision would be known within a few months.