AUBURN, Maine— The two teenagers stood facing each other Tuesday, separated by the width of a courtroom.
Just over a year ago, they had met in a parking lot at the Lewiston Mall for the first time.
There, Jacob Estes, 18, of 1769 Hotel Road punched Dax Catalano, 16, of Lewiston repeatedly until he fell to the ground. Estes continued to punch Catalano after he had stopped fighting back. When a bystander threatened to call police, Estes stood to leave but first kicked Catalano in the head, causing a skull fracture and bleeding in his brain.
Catalano, now 17, nearly died at Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he underwent surgery and a pint of blood was drawn from his damaged skull.
On Tuesday, Catalano stood with his parents at the courtroom rail.
Estes, 19, clad in tan jail clothes, his feet shackled, looked across the courtroom and said: “Dax, I am sorry.”
Catalano, dressed in formal street clothes, said: “Thank you for your apology.”
Estes was sentenced Tuesday to spend three years in prison for aggravated assault. Five years of his eight-year sentence were suspended. When he leaves the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, he will be on probation for three years, Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice MaryGay Kennedy said.
During that time, he must not have or use illegal drugs or alcohol. His probation officer can make random searches. Estes will be forbidden from having any contact with Catalano and his family.
While on probation, Estes will have to undergo alcohol-abuse evaluation and possible counseling and continue anger and violence treatment.
He was ordered to repay Catalano’s mother, Maureen, $3,537.93 for Dax’s medical expenses that his mother’s health insurance wouldn’t cover.
She described the ordeal she and her family suffered and recalled having to phone her husband, Ron, from the hospital to say: “You need to come now. They don’t think Dax is going to make it.”
In a letter she read aloud to Estes, she prefaced each item on the list of emotional and physical hardships he caused with: “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry for the 36 hours of death watch my family and I endured at the hospital and the pain and the worry and the tears of not knowing if your only child can make it through the night. For thoughts of planning your baby’s funeral going through your head,” she said.
Assistant District Attorney Andrew Matulis told the court that the assault followed months of cyberbullying on Facebook by Estes and a friend.
After school on March 1, 2011, Dax Catalano had gone with his then-17-year-old girlfriend to the Lewiston Mall for lunch at the China Super Buffet, police said. She was the ex-girlfriend of one of Estes’ friends, a minor, who accompanied Estes to the parking lot that day, along with another of their friends. After a brief argument, Estes began punching Catalano.
Justice Kennedy acknowledged a three-page letter Dax Catalano wrote to the court, which she called “incredibly eloquent,” as he described the events and how they affected him.
She asked the Catalano family how they felt about the plea agreement.
“No sentence is ever big enough” when you are the victim or a member of the victim’s family, Maureen Catalano said.
Justice Kennedy appeared reluctant to accept the plea agreement. She asked the lawyers to explain why she should accept it.
Matulis said Estes had no prior criminal history and had made a “terrible decision” to assault Catalano on that day. He also said Estes had “underlying” mental health issues and had abused bath salts in the past.
Given his young age, Estes should be given a chance to be rehabilitated, Matulis said.
Estes’ attorney, Verne Paradie Jr., said his client had admitted his actions at the outset and has been addressing his anger management during weekly meetings for the past year.
Kennedy said she would accept the plea and sentencing agreement “with a lot of hesitation and regret for all of you.”
Reading a written statement earlier, Estes said he had grown and matured since the assault and felt confident he would handle a similar situation differently in the future.
Estes had graduated from Edward Little High School and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He had been scheduled to begin basic training in three weeks when he assaulted Catalano.
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