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Lamoine man pleads guilty to manslaughter; will serve 16 years for fatal shooting

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
A collage of photos of Lawrence "Randy" Sinclair sits propped against a wall in a courtroom at Penobscot Judicial Center on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. Relatives of Sinclair, who was shot and killed in Lamoine on March 11, 2012, had brought the photos to a court hearing for Michael Carter, who pleaded guilty Wednesday to manslaughter and other charges in connection with Sinclair's death.
By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — As part of a plea agreement, a Lamoine man was sentenced Wednesday to serve 16 years behind bars after pleading guilty to a charge of manslaughter for shooting a friend between the eyes.

Michael Carter, 31, pleaded guilty in a Bangor courtroom to charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. Justice William Anderson accepted the guilty pleas and a jointly recommended sentence for Carter of 30 years in prison with all but 16 years suspended. Concurrent with the 30-year sentence for manslaughter is a 10-year sentence for the aggravated assault conviction and five years for the firearm possession conviction.

As part of the plea agreement, charges of murder and elevated aggravated assault that had been filed against Carter were dismissed. Carter also was ordered to pay $6,166.25 in restitution and to serve a maximum probation term of four years upon his release.

On March 11, 2012, Carter shot and killed Lawrence “Randy” Sinclair Jr., 32, in Lamoine, after the two became embroiled in a dispute over a paint job that two of Sinclair’s friends had done on Carter’s truck. Two other men and Carter also suffered gunshot wounds in the early morning confrontation outside Carter’s home on Route 184.

Joshua McKinney, 27, and Torrey Garland, 36, both of Ellsworth, had repainted Carter’s truck, but Carter was unhappy with the job and confronted them about it through phone calls and text messages, police have said.

Sinclair, a distant relative and friend of Carter’s, became involved in the communication exchange and went with McKinney, Garland and his brother Jacob Sinclair, 26, to Carter’s house around 4:30 a.m. Garland and McKinney, who both were shot, told police they went to Carter’s house unarmed, thinking McKinney and Carter would settle their differences with their fists. Instead, Carter, who had not gone to bed, came out of his home with a 9 mm pistol. Tacy Mullins, 24, tried to grab the gun away from him. Mullins and Jacob Sinclair were unhurt, and the other three men have since recovered from their injuries.

No one else was charged in the incident.

Neither Carter nor his supporters addressed the court Wednesday.

Carter’s defense attorney, Richard Hartley, said that if the case had gone to trial, he would have argued that Carter was defending himself and Mullins from the four men who arrived unexpectedly in the wee hours. Carter and Mullins were about to go to bed and would have done so if the unwanted visitors hadn’t shown up.

“They didn’t ask for this. They didn’t bring it on,” Hartley said outside the courthouse. “That would have been a big part of the trial.”

Outside the courtroom, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese said that in addition to the murder charge, the state decided to dismiss the charge of elevated aggravated assault that resulted from Carter’s shooting of Garland. She said that a jury may have interpreted Garland’s walking up the front steps as a threatening act and might have acquitted Carter of that charge.

McKinney and Randy Sinclair were trying to get away when they were shot, after Garland, she added, so any argument that they were shot in self defense would have been harder to believe. She said the plea agreement removes the uncertainty with whether a jury would have found him guilty. She added that though he will have to serve 16 years up front with possibly 14 more if he violates his probation, the overall sentence of 30 years is the maximum allowed for a Class “A” crime in Maine.

In accepting the sentence, Anderson said that the agreement was a “reasonable resolution” because neither the prosecution nor the defense appeared to have a significant weakness or leverage compared to the other side. A trial likely would have focused on possible threats made by the victims before the shooting, he said, though the person who died as a result appears to have been the least culpable of all those involved.

Relatives of Sinclair’s and Garland told the judge Wednesday that Carter basically executed Randy Sinclair, and they did not think 16 years behind bars was sufficient. Several added that they understood the risk of Carter being acquitted by a jury if the case went to trial.

Althea Wentworth, Sinclair’s mother, told the judge that Carter is a “dirtbag” and a “piece of s—-” who should be found guilty of murder. Her son, she added, was well-liked and generous.

“I miss my son so much,” Wentworth said. “Randy didn’t deserve to die that way.”

Sinclair’s sister, Lori Sinclair Rowley, told the judge that she was “sickened” by the thought of Carter walking out of prison a free man. He doesn’t deserve even to breathe the same air as her family, she said.

“Our lives must go on. That is what Randy would want,” Rowley said. “I hope Mike Carter lies awake and sees Randy’s face at night. He should feel all the fear and pain his victims felt.”

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