WISCASSET, Maine — Just before Arline Lawless was sentenced Friday to 35 years in prison, the mother of her victim, Norman Benner Jr., said she knew Lawless was evil from the first day she met her. And she said that when Lawless is released, “she’s going to kill again.”
Lawless, 26, of Waldoboro was sentenced Friday in Lincoln County Superior Court for the July 2012 murder of her boyfriend, 34-year-old Norman Benner, also of Waldoboro. Lawless shot Benner in the back of the head at the Friendship Road home where they were staying — only days after Benner told his mother he planned to break up with Lawless.
Lawless, also known as Arline Seavey, told detectives after the murder that she shot Benner because she feared he would leave her for another woman. She pleaded guilty in June to fatally shooting him.
Dozens of friends and family members, some openly crying and many wearing pins with Benner’s photograph, listened on Friday as Dawn Benner, along with two aunts and Benner’s sister Kimberly Simmons, told of the “horrific nightmare” they have experienced since his murder a year ago. A statement by Benner’s father, Norman Benner Sr., was read to the courtroom because he was too emotional to deliver it in person.
A slideshow of photos of Benner as an infant, a child and a smiling adult fishing and camping with family members played in the background as Dawn Benner told of the day after the murder, when she and her daughter found Benner shot to death and Lawless lying beside him, suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“It was like being in a horror movie,” she said. “I had to see my son lying there. I saw her rise up and I said, ‘Run Kimmy.’ We had her children in the car and I didn’t want her to kill them too.”
Focusing on Lawless, Dawn Benner said, “I knew when I met her she was evil … 35 years is nowhere near enough. She’s going to be out when she’s in her 50s. That’s scary. She’s going to kill again.”
Kimberly Simmons said her brother was “the sweetest, most compassionate man, and that’s what did him in … the last way I saw him laying there dead next to her — she didn’t even give him a blanket.”
As Benner’s family spoke, Lawless sat silently in navy blue prison scrubs, rocking slightly in her chair between defense attorneys Philip Cohen and Jeremy Pratt, and frequently mouthing inaudible words to herself.
Asked by Justice Jeffrey Hjelm if she had anything to say before sentencing, Lawless uttered a quiet “no.”
Hjelm said he would impose the 35-year sentence agreed to by defense attorneys and Assistant Attorney General Deborah Cashman, who prosecuted the case, in exchange for Lawless’ guilty plea. But Cashman said he considered circumstances, including that the murder was an act of domestic violence, which he said was “the overarching theme of this case.”
The state’s “pretty strong case” indicated that “Miss Lawless made the decision that if she couldn’t have [Benner], nobody could,” Hjelm said.
He said evidence — as well as the crowd in the courtroom on Friday — indicated that Benner “was a good person, a good man,” and did nothing to provoke Lawless’ actions.
Lawless planned the murder, he said, and shot Benner in the back of the head, “probably as he was sleeping,” which Hjelm said was “a profoundly cowardly act.”
But he also said Lawless “does have mental health issues,” likely because of a brain injury suffered as a child.
Lawless initially entered a plea of not criminally responsible by reason of insanity, but was evaluated and found capable of standing trial. While acknowledging her “mental health issues,” Hjelm said Friday that Lawless did finally plead guilty and he accepted that plea.
After the sentencing, family members and friends — several wearing T-shirts with Benner’s photo beneath the words “Gone But Not Forgotten” — walked from the courtroom, hugging and murmuring their dissatisfaction at the sentence.
“Thirty-five years. The sentence they give is 35 years,” Dawn Benner said. “I don’t understand. You kill somebody as they sleep and you get 35 years. She needs to just get life. It’s crazy.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified a lawyer. One of the attorneys who represented Arline Lawless is named Jeremy Pratt, not Platt.