BANGOR, Maine — A Bradford man was convicted of manslaughter on Tuesday in the crowbar beating death of his neighbor after being tried on a murder charge.
The jury of seven men and five women at the Penobscot Judicial Center found Peter Robinson, 50, not guilty of murder in the November 2011 death of David P. Trask, 71, of Hudson.
Robinson testified during the trial that he acted in self-defense, telling the jury that he thought the cellphone holder on Trask’s belt was a holster with a gun in it and he feared Trask would shoot him.
As far as Trask’s son David A. Trask and his family are concerned, Peter Robinson got away with murder.
“We are not happy with the verdict, but we have to live with it,” the victim’s son said at an impromptu press conference outside the courthouse where he acted as the family spokesman. “As far as I’m concerned Peter Robinson got away with murder but manslaughter is better than his walking away a free man.”
David A. Trask, 50, of Hudson said he wanted to refute the description of his family as “a band of bullies” by defense attorney Thomas Hallett of Portland in his opening statement and closing arguments. He alluded to the accusations that family members plotted to kill Robinson but did not address them directly after the verdict.
“My whole family has been put on trial here,” he said. “We had to bury my father in a closed casket. Close to 700 people came to his funeral. Bullies don’t have that many friends.”
The large, extended Trask family and friends did not react when the verdict was read. But in the hallway outside the courtroom, many of them wept and hugged each other.
David A. Trask told reporters that he planned to finish building a hunting camp on the land adjacent to Robinson’s, which his father purchased six months before his death.
“I plan to finish what he started but I would give Peter Robinson that land if I could have my father back,” David A. Trask said.
The jury deliberated for about eight hours before announcing its verdict. Jurors deliberated for about two hours and 20 minutes Monday before leaving for the night about 7:30. The jury deliberated for about 5½ hours Tuesday.
The trial began March 25.
Superior Court Justice William Anderson ordered that Robinson be held without bail while awaiting sentencing. A sentencing date has not been set, but Anderson said he expected it would take place in three to four weeks.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, who prosecuted the case, said Tuesday outside the courthouse that he was “very pleased” with the verdict.
“I have spoken with the family and they are pleased that Peter Robinson has been held criminally accountable for the victim’s death,” Benson said.
The prosecutor declined to say what sentence he would recommend but said it would be “on the high end” of the 30-year maximum sentence that could be imposed for manslaughter.
Hallett said outside the courthouse that his client obviously was disappointed with the verdict.
“He knows what happened that day and he knows it was self-defense,” Hallett said of Robinson. “He couldn’t have done anything differently.”
As Hallett spoke to the media, family and friends comforted the defendant’s wife. Cheryl Robinson, 54, of Bradford began weeping after her husband was removed from the courtroom by jail personnel. She testified that the couple had decided to move because of continued harassment by the Trasks.
The defense attorney said that he was going to the Penobscot County Jail to discuss concerns for Robinson’s safety with jail personnel. Hallett said that Robinson was threatened while he was in the jail in November and December waiting to see if he would be released on bail.
A timeline for the alleged plan to kill Robinson was not introduced as evidence. In addition, the judge ruled that two of the victim’s brothers could not testify about what they might have planned while Robinson was awaiting trial. Anderson said the men could offer little information without getting into areas in which the men’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination would be at risk.
David A. Trask and his son Darrick Trask, 26, of Bradford both took the witness stand and denied planning to kill the defendant in what was alleged to be a separate plot.
No one has been charged in the alleged scheme outlined in court documents, according to testimony. No one has been granted immunity from prosecution.
Security at the Penobscot Judicial Center was increased for the “high-profile” case, according to Allan Jamison, who is head of security at the courthouse. It was especially tight when the verdict was announced, with eight court officers in the courtroom.
“Before the trial began we established a security plan and added extra people in the courtroom,” Jamison said Tuesday morning. “So far, there have been no incidents.”
Extra officers were assigned to the courtroom and the hallways because of the alleged murder-for-hire plot initiated by the victim’s relatives, the former Maine State Police detective said. The defendant sometimes has been escorted to and from the courtroom with a court officer.
Jamison said that two court officers instead of one were assigned to the jury for the Robinson trial. Jurors also were escorted in and out of the building by court officers.
Bangor police cruisers sat outside the courthouse and in the courthouse parking lot Tuesday as jurors left the building.
If he had been convicted of murder, Robinson would have faced 25 years to life in prison.