Defendant threatened to kill crowbar slaying victim in 2009, ex-game warden testifies

Posted March 26, 2013, at 11:18 a.m.
Last modified March 26, 2013, at 6:46 p.m.
The murder trial of Peter Robinson, 49, of Bradford started Monday at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.
The murder trial of Peter Robinson, 49, of Bradford started Monday at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.

BANGOR, Maine — A retired Maine game warden testified Tuesday afternoon that fewer than three years before David Trask was killed, the Bradford man on trial for Trask’s murder threatened to kill the victim and his brothers.

Peter Robinson, 49, is accused of beating to death Trask, 71, of Hudson on Nov. 12, 2011, in an alleged dispute over a right of way and a cable gate Robinson had installed across the road. Robinson has claimed he acted in self-defense when he beat Trask to death with a large crowbar.

Michael Morrison of Charleston said on the second day of the trial at the Penobscot Judicial Center that Robinson made the threat against the Trask family in February 2009 when the warden went to follow up on a complaint by Robinson that the Trasks had been hunting on his property. Morrison said he issued warnings to the Trasks, including the victim, but the Penobscot County district attorney’s office declined to file charges against anyone.

“He told me if he caught them down in there again he’d kill them,” Morrison told the jury.

The former warden, who retired in December 2010, said that he did not take Robinson’s threat seriously. Morrison also testified that he was familiar with the Trask family and had charged them with violations of Maine hunting laws before he was called by Robinson in 2009.

Neighbors testified Tuesday that they had confrontations with Robinson over what he said was a need for privacy and the placement of the cable across the road on which property owners shared a right of way with him.

Seasonal neighbors testified Tuesday morning that Robinson told them their riding ATVs on the road on which they all shared a right of way disturbed his privacy.

Brothers Ralph Acabbo of Hamden, Conn., and Robert Acabbo of Bethany, Conn., and his brother-in-law Henry Gargiulo of West Haven, Conn., all testified Tuesday morning that their once friendly relationship with Robinson soured on Columbus Day weekend in 2006. Robert Acabbo, Gargiulo and six others were riding ATVs on the road to which they have a right of way when Robinson confronted them and accused the party of “disrespecting” his privacy, Robert Acabbo told the jury.

“It was out of character. He raised his voice,” the Connecticut man said. “He said, ‘You guys were on my grass.’ We were not.”

All three men testified that there have been no subsequent incidents concerning ATVs with Robinson but said they have not spoken with the defendant face-to-face since.

Gargiulo testified that at the time of Trask’s death, the brothers were considering whether to sell some of their land to the victim.

“We were negotiating with him at the time,” Gargiulo said.

John Acabbo of Charleston testified that he and his brother, James Acabbo, sold their land, which abutted Robinson’s, to David Trask in April 2011 after James Acabbo lost his job.

James Acabbo did not testify Tuesday and is not on either side’s witness lists.

Year-round neighbor Robert Hickey, 53, of Bradford testified about the use of the cable gate that Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson has said sparked the confrontation that led to Trask’s death.

Hickey told jurors that Janet Battalene, who owned the property before Robinson bought it from her estate in 2000, installed the original posts and cable in the mid-1990s. He said that Battalene stopped hooking the cable across the road after Hickey’s now deceased father complained about it.

A few years after Robinson bought the land, he reinstalled the cable gate, Hickey and others testified. Robinson provided neighbors with keys.

Hallett told jurors Monday that Robinson did not like the fact that the victim and his brothers did not reset the gate across the road after they took it down to gain access to their property.

In addition to Morrison and the neighbors, a former Maine medical examiner testified Tuesday afternoon that Trask died of blunt force trauma to the head.

Dr. Michael Ferenc, who now lives in Phoenix, Ariz., testified that the fatal blow inflicted by a large crowbar pushed pieces of bones into Trask’s brain.

Ferenc was deputy chief medical examiner for Maine when he performed an autopsy on Trask on Nov. 13, 2011, the day after Trask died. The forensic pathologist said that he left the state at the end of 2012.

He said that Trask was struck at least three times — once in the chest and twice on the face. The doctor said Trask was struck first in the chest and suffered multiple rib fractures.

The state is expected to rest its case Wednesday. Hallett declined Tuesday after court adjourned for the day to say whether Robinson would take the stand in his own defense.

Robinson, who was released on bail Dec. 23, 2011, after being held at the Penobscot County Jail for about five weeks, has been living in Wells, according to court documents. His bail conditions required that he live in York County and have no contact with a long list of relatives of the victim and potential witnesses.

Last week, Superior Court Justice William Anderson modified those conditions in his chambers so it would be more convenient for Robinson to attend the trial. Hallett said Thursday after the hearing on pretrial motions that he believed the new conditions would ensure his client’s safety during the trial.

The trial is scheduled to last six days but might take longer since the prosecution and the defense have listed a total of 125 potential witnesses.

If convicted of murder, Robinson could spend between 25 years and life in prison.

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