Justices uphold Portland man’s manslaughter conviction in May 2010 death of drinking buddy

Posted June 25, 2013, at 8:15 p.m.
William Stokes
William Stokes
Thomas Connolly
Thomas Connolly

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has upheld the manslaughter conviction of a Portland man in a one-page decision that did not comment on the merits of the arguments.

Ernest Weidul, 53, is serving a 16-year sentence in connection with the May 2010 death of Roger Downs Jr., 46, of Portland.

Weidul was found guilty by a Cumberland County jury in May 2012 of manslaughter, aggravated assault and operating with a suspended license.

His defense attorney, Thomas Connolly of Portland, appealed the conviction to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, arguing that Weidul was tricked into waiving his right to an attorney. Justices heard oral arguments in the case June 12 at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor and the memorandum of decision was issued June 20.

“Contrary to Weidul’s contentions, the court did not err in concluding that he knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights prior to making the incriminating statements, nor did it err in concluding that under the totality of the circumstances, Weidul made the statements voluntarily,” the court wrote in its decision.

Connolly on Tuesday called the decision “horrible” and “appalling.”

“The decision permits police to trick defendants into waiving their rights in an unknown manner,” he said. “The real issue is when someone is led [by police] to believe they are discussing one thing, when they are discussing something different entirely is OK with them. If that were done in the context of someone selling something, it would be reprehensible, but if the police do it, it’s OK.”

Connolly said in his brief that the Portland police used “bait and switch” tactics in questioning Weidul. Connolly, who represented Weidul during the trial, argued in his brief that his client was told by police they wanted to discuss a possible driving with a suspended license charge when Weidul was actually a suspect in Downs’ death.

“The deliberate impression provided to Weidul was that he was brought to the Portland police station for the operating after suspension [charge]. His motives to answer had to do with the risk of harm from the misdemeanor balanced against getting his vehicle and possessions back,” Connolly wrote in his brief. “The agreement to waive was strictly in that context because the police created the context and deliberately so.”

Maine Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, who prosecuted Weidul, described the court’s decision as “short and sweet.”

“The police did a good job making sure [Weidul] got a Miranda warning and signed a written waiver of his right,” Stokes said. “They asked on numerous occasions if [he was] drinking [the day of the interview] and what medications he was on. So, they were good about making sure he understood his rights and was capable of exercising his free will.”

Weidul and Downs had just met in May 2010 when they spent hours together drinking coffee brandy, according to previously published reports. Jurors found that Weidul punched Downs repeatedly in the head and neck after he became annoyed because Downs was flicking his finger at him and poking him.

Downs died a couple of days later in the hospital, according to previously published reports.

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