AUGUSTA, Maine — Family members and friends of Justin Smith were emotional as they addressed Justice Michaela Murphy in Kennebec County Superior Court on Wednesday morning.
Smith, 26, of China was fatally shot in the face during an altercation outside a Waterville bar on Dec. 4, 2012. Matthew Partridge, 30, of Winslow was arrested and charged with murder. Partridge pleaded guilty to manslaughter in court on Wednesday and was sentenced to 25 years in prison with all but 15 years suspended. He will also have four years of probation after his release.
The courtroom was packed with nearly 40 people and a heavy police presence.
Partridge was repeatedly called a coward by friends and family of Smith. Partridge sat emotionless and never looked at friends and relatives of the victim when he was addressed.
“The coward had so many choices. Why didn’t he just leave?” Brenda Smith, Justin’s mother, asked Justice Murphy. “He knew he had a gun in his car. He knew what he was going to do with it.”
Partridge and Smith were at You Know Who’s Pub in Waterville with different sets of friends during the night of Dec. 4, 2012.
One of Partridge’s friends got into a physical altercation with one of Smith’s friends inside the bar, according to a police affidavit.
Smith went outside and found Partridge sitting in his vehicle and said, “Who likes to sucker punch people?” Smith then punched Partridge in the face hard enough to break his nose. Partridge then fired two shots from his handgun into Smith’s face and drove off, according to court documents.
“No one will ever make us believe this wasn’t murder,” said Brenda Smith. “How senseless.”
Defense attorney Pamela Ames of Waterville said Partridge acted in self-defense. While explaining this to Murphy, a man from the crowd yelled, “You are a joke, lady.”
Members of the crowd occasionally yelled at Partridge. Murphy admonished those who yelled.
The sentence was the result of a plea agreement struck between Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson and Ames in order to avoid a trial, which was set to begin next week. Justice Murphy, who accepted the deal, acknowledged that the agreement wouldn’t please anyone in the crowd.
“We don’t feel like justice is served,” Brenda Smith said.
“There is no justice today because Justin is dead and he is alive,” said Joanne Dolan, Justin Smith’s aunt.
Smith said Justin Smith’s 3-year-old son, Tucker, will never know his father.
Darrell Lola, Tucker’s grandfather, cried as he spoke to Justice Murphy. He also addressed Partridge directly.
“You’re a coward. You’re nothing else but a coward,” he said. “When you get out in 15 years, my grandson will still not have his dad.”
Smith’s friend Christopher Oxley, who was at You Know Who’s Pub during the night of Smith’s death, referred to Partridge as a monster.
“[Smith] was already backing away and he murdered him,” Oxley said.
Smith’s mother described her son as someone who loved the outdoors, nature and his family. His death has been hard on those who knew him, she said.
“We had a bond most families will never have,” said Brenda Smith, who also described Justin has mischievous.
“I lost my greatest treasure,” she said, adding that she has had trouble sleeping since his death and hasn’t been able to touch his room.
Smith, Lola and Oxley expressed ill will toward Partridge, as did several who yelled from the crowd.
“We pray you go straight to Hell,” said Brenda Smith.
“When you’re in jail, I hope all those dark things we hear about happen to you,” Lola said.
Several people said there’s a flaw in how concealed carry permits are issued. Smith questioned how Partridge was able to obtain a permit while he admitted to having post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Why is it so easy to get a concealed weapon permit?” said Smith, who vowed to work on changing the law regarding concealed carry permits.
Partridge was also ordered not to consume illegal drugs or alcohol or possess a firearm after he is released from prison. He is also to have no contact with Smith’s family. If he violates those conditions, he will be sent back to prison to fulfill the full 25-year sentence.
He faced a maximum sentence of 30 years on the Class A manslaughter charge. Benson said Partridge had no criminal history before being charged with murder.
Neither Ames nor Benson spoke to reporters outside of court after sentencing.