Court upholds conviction for Sullivan man who provided drugs in fatal overdose

Posted Nov. 14, 2013, at 2:57 p.m.
Bruce W. Merchant
Hancock County Jail
Bruce W. Merchant

ELLSWORTH, Maine — A Sullivan man convicted last year of giving oxycodone to a man who died the next day has had his criminal conviction upheld by the state supreme court.

Bruce W. Merchant, 47, sought to have his conviction overturned on the grounds that statements he made to police shouldn’t have have been considered at his August 2012 bench trial in Hancock County Superior Court. The Law Court disagreed, however, and affirmed the lower court ruling on Oct. 31. Merchant began serving his two-year sentence on Nov.7 for unlawful furnishing of drugs, according to Hancock County Jail records.

Merchant was accused of furnishing prescription drugs to Charles Robinson in late September 2010. The same night Merchant provided the pills to Robinson, according to police, Robinson’s wife saw her husband crush and snort a blue pill before she helped him to bed. Robinson was dead the next morning.

When interviewed by police investigating Robinson’s death, Merchant said he had given Robinson the oxycodone and had taken some of the drug with Robinson. At his client’s trial, Portland lawyer Robert Napolitano tried to suppress Merchant’s statements to police, arguing that Merchant was not given adequate notice of his rights by the officers.

Justice Ann Murray, presiding at Merchant’s bench trial, denied Napolitano’s motion to suppress Merchant’s statements. She ruled that Merchant had voluntarily waived his Miranda rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer present while he was questioned by law enforcement. Merchant had mentioned speaking with his lawyer several times in the interview, Murray wrote in her decision, but he had not specifically stated his desire to end the interview.

“A defendant does not necessarily invoke his right to counsel each time he says the word ‘attorney’ during an interview with the police,” Murray wrote.

Merchant was convicted at the bench trial of a furnishing charge but was acquitted of a more serious charge of unlawful trafficking in scheduled drugs and of two other drug furnishing charges.

Contacted Thursday by phone, Napolitano declined to comment on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision.

Despite the circumstances surrounding Robinson’s death, Merchant was not charged with being responsible for the death of his fellow Sullivan resident.

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