PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has upheld a lower court’s criminal sentencing of Eric Hamel, convicted of a 2009 double murder in Rumford.
Hamel will serve two full and concurrent 45-year sentences imposed by the Oxford County Superior Court.
Hamel, 22, of Mexico pleaded guilty in 2010 to two counts of murder in the fatal shootings of Victor Reed Sheldon and Roger Leroy Day Jr. During sentencing, the court calculated the basic sentence at 50 years based on evidence presented that Hamel’s premeditated actions were committed for “pecuniary,” or financial, gain and also because the victims in this case were most likely “aware of their imminent deaths and the impact these deaths had on” their families, according to court records.
Last month, Hamel’s attorney argued before the law court that Hamel’s sentence did not match two other defendants in this case, arguing that the Superior Court “abused its discretion in sentencing him to a longer prison term than that of his two co-conspirators,” according to court documents.
The court disagreed, and on Tuesday affirmed the lower court’s sentence.
Hamel is one of three accomplices sentenced in the shooting deaths of Sheldon and Day inside Day’s Pine Street home in August 2009.
According to court records, Hamel had failed one attempt to lure Sheldon to a location where he could be shot, and it was the second attempt — at Day’s apartment — that resulted in the men’s deaths.
In August 2011, Richard Moulton was sentenced to 40 years after pleading guilty to two counts of murder for his role in the killings. Gayla Sheldon, Moulton’s girlfriend and Victor Sheldon’s estranged wife, was sentenced in July 2011 to 15 years for helping to plan the killings.
As part of Hamel’s plea deal, he had agreed to testify against Gayla Sheldon and Moulton, Hamel’s high school friend, during the trial.
According to police reports, Hamel told investigators that he met with Moulton on three or four occasions to plan the killings.
Hamel said Moulton was upset with Sheldon and that Gayla was afraid the two children she had with Sheldon would be taken away if Sheldon went to jail.
Hamel told police he agreed to kill the two men for $2,000, and that he stole a .38-caliber handgun from a neighbor’s house. Moulton went to Day’s house on the evening of Aug. 3, but Hamel said Moulton went into the bathroom when he saw Hamel outside.
After the killings, Hamel later led police to where he had hidden the weapon in woods off Oak Street. Moulton originally said he did not know the shooter but later identified Hamel.
According to court records, Hamel’s $2,000 murder fee was to have been paid in installments from Gayla Sheldon’s state welfare benefits.
In arguing before the law court to reduce Hamel’s sentence last month, Hamel’s attorney, George Hess, told the seven members of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that the sentencing judge “must endeavor to create consistency among sentences for similar crimes and must at the same time tailor the sentence to the individual defendant,” Hess said. “We contend that the sentencing judge in this case was wrong in imposing a greater sentence on Eric, given the equal culpability of all of the defendants and their similar mitigating and aggravating circumstances.”
The court ruled however, that the Superior Court’s sentence of 45 years for each murder conviction against Hamel is a “term that complies with the statutory requirements for murder cases, namely, a minimum of twenty-five years in prison and up to life in prison.”
The law court noted, in its affirmation of the lower court ruling, that the lower court had accounted for his co-conspirators’ lesser sentences by sentencing Hamel to “only forty-five years instead of the fifty-year capped sentence the court stated it otherwise would have imposed,” demonstrating that the court considered the possible inequity in punishments before handing down Hamel’s sentence.
According to the law court’s finding, “the differences among the three sentences reflects the differences in the conduct of each of the defendants and the resulting convictions.” The court, which described Gayla Sheldon as the “mastermind” of the murders, was convicted of conspiracy and solicitation charges, not murder. And, although Moulton was convicted of murder “for his role in furthering Gayla’s plan … he did not kill either victim,” according to court records. “Hamel alone shot both victims,” according to the law court, concluding that the “distinctions between Moulton’s and Hamel’s actions support the differences in their respective sentences.”