CORINTH, Maine — The local man who armed himself with a box cutter and burst into his estranged wife’s home last Sunday morning stabbing one of two men inside “had his demons” but he wasn’t a monster, family members say.
Christopher G. Darner, 37, died of asphyxiation when the two men restrained him and one put him into a choke hold, according to police reports. Darner, who was barred by court order from seeing his wife of three years, had rigged a baby monitor to listen to the goings-on inside the home and hid in a nearby cornfield until around 2:30 a.m. when he used a key to enter the residence through the back door.
“He was not a monster,” his adoptive father, Richard Henderson of Charleston, said Thursday. “He was a person who made some bad decisions.”
All three men involved, Kirt Damon Jr., 24, of Searsport, who was stabbed in the neck and stomach, Zachary Joseph, 21, of Belfast and Darner all have criminal histories, according to court records.
Investigators know all about the previous crimes committed and other involvements with law enforcement by Damon, Joseph and the deceased, Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Thursday.
“Histories play a role in many criminal investigations, as we need to know who we are dealing with,” he said.
No one has been charged in connection with the death and investigators are considering self-defense and defense of a third person as possible motives, McCausland said.
A person’s criminal history is important but “it really has nothing to do with our evaluation of what happened that night,” Assistant Attorney General William Stokes said Thursday.
“You don’t lose your rights of self defense or defense of a third person because you have a criminal history,” said Stokes, who leads the criminal division in the Maine attorney general’s office. “It’s all based on the circumstances of this case.”
One of Darner’s “demons” was his drug addiction, but he wasn’t on drugs the night of the attack, his aunt from Kansas and adoptive father from Charleston both said this week.
“These people involved in the strangulation of Chris have a pretty bad rap sheet themselves,” Darner’s aunt, Leisa Kindred of Mission, Kan., said Wednesday during a phone interview.
Damon was arrested and charged with criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and reckless conduct with a firearm on May 8, 2012 after he reportedly shot a firearm at a vehicle that contained two women and a child who were leaving his residence in Stockton Springs after one had collected some belongings.
Damon told police he fired the gun into the air as a warning to get off his property. A clerk at Waldo County district attorney’s office said Thursday that both of the charges were later dismissed because of “insufficient evidence.”
Damon was charged with domestic violence assault in July 2009 and arrested again in December 2009 for assaulting the same woman and violating his bail conditions, according to Bangor Daily News archives and court documents. The assault charges were later dropped but he was convicted of the bail violation and was sentenced to two days in jail, according to a background check done by the BDN through the Maine State Bureau of Identification.
Damon has two other bail violation convictions on his criminal record, both from March 2010, that resulted in 48 hours in jail with time served, the background check shows. Records about the charges he faced leading to his being bailed were not available Friday.
He was also involved in a family feud in 2008 that resulted in a group fight and stabbing of his father, Kirt Damon Sr., by a Searsport man.
Joseph has two convictions on his record, criminal mischief and violating conditions of release and both are related to an incident in September 2010 where he destroyed a pumpkin that was not his, his background check and Belfast court documents show. He was ordered to pay a $100 fine and $100 in restitution.
Darner also has a criminal history and a history of drug use. He was clean and sober when the couple started dating four years ago, Miranda Darner said, adding they were involved when she found out he had a history of domestic abuse involving another woman in 2005. His police record includes five violation of protective order convictions and an assault conviction. He spent nearly two years in jail for those and other crimes.
While police continue to investigate the homicide, Henderson, who adopted Darner on June 4 shortly after he turned 37, according to papers he provided the BDN, collected his body and began to make funeral arrangements.
Henderson said he adopted Christopher Darner because the two became friends and he learned “he had a horrendous life” and wanted to give him some stability.
Henderson said the wife of his adopted son, Miranda Darner, 22, who was in the home Sunday when he died, gave up her rights to collect the body when she filed for the protection from abuse order against him.
Miranda Darner said earlier this week that she believes the two men she invited to her house after meeting Damon on Facebook should not face charges.
“This is definitely my husband’s fault,” she said of Chris Darner. “He’s had a drug issue since January.”
His drug use tore the young family apart, she said. Court documents filed by Miranda Darner in a protection from abuse order request that was approved two days before the deadly attack state her husband was using crack cocaine and had put her in a choke hold on Aug. 30.
Darner, who legally changed his last name to Henderson Darner, called his sister Ashley in Kansas, and Henderson in the hours before he died.
“I pleaded with him to make the right decision,” Henderson said Wednesday during an interview at the Bangor Daily News, recalling the frantic phone calls.
“He was begging me. He wanted me to take him uptown,” the Charleston man said, with his partner of 18 years, Reginald Porter, sitting beside him. “He wanted me to take him to go buy some drugs. I kept saying, ‘No. Let me pick you up and bring you home.”
His adoptive son of three months declined the offer.
In his last call to Henderson, Darner sounded winded, apparently from running from the cornfield where he was hiding with a baby monitor listening to what was happening inside the house, to the home’s back door. He was sobbing.
“He said, ‘I’ve got to go in. I’ve got to be a man,’” Henderson recalled. “He said a couple more times, ‘I’m so afraid. I’m so afraid’ and then the line went dead.”
Shortly after the last call ended, “we heard sirens going by my house,” Henderson said, adding his house is about three miles away from Miranda Darner’s home. “I asked Reg to drive me over” where they were met by police.
He said he ran into a Maine State Police trooper he knew and asked about his adoptive son.
“He got a look in his face and as soon as I saw that look I knew,” Henderson said. “He told me my child has passed. Things went into slow motion.”
The news accounts of Darner’s death only mention the negative in his life, not the good, Henderson said.
“Chris had a heart of gold,” Henderson said. “Anybody who knew Chris, loved Chris. They liked him and loved him.”
He especially loved his five children, two with his widow Miranda Darner, and three from a previous relationship with a woman who now lives in New Hampshire.
“He was not a monster,” his adoptive father added later. “He was a person who made some bad decisions.”
As of Friday, “no one has been charged and when the final investigative report is completed, it will be reviewed by the AG’s office,” McCausland said, referring to the attorney general’s office. “I have no time-table when either will take place.”
Kindred and Henderson said they have both contacted Maine State Police about the case.
“I am not going to dispute what happened,” Darner’s aunt said. “I know Chris had a lot of demons and he messed up. I just think there is more to this story. It’s our family and we just want answers.”