May 21, 2018
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Defense claims Tenants Harbor man’s state of mind is key in murder trial

Stephen Betts | BDN
Stephen Betts | BDN
Andrew Kierstead (right) stands next to his attorney Steven Peterson in Rockland District Court in 2012. Kierstead, who is from Tenants Harbor, is charged with murder in the shotgun killing of 48-year-old Richard Mills.
By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — According to his attorney, Andrew Kierstead snapped after a day of drinking to deal with his withdrawal from opiates, an addiction that had been more than 10 years in the making at the hands of the man Kierstead is accused of killing.

Defense Attorney Steven Peterson offered that scenario during his opening statements Tuesday afternoon in the case against Kierstead in Knox County Superior Court. The Tenants Harbor man is charged with intentional and knowing murder in the shooting death on Sept. 27, 2012, of Richard L. Mills.

Prosecutor Leane Zainea of the Maine Attorney General’s Office countered Tuesday, however, that Kierstead was angry at Mills for not providing him any more drugs, lured him outside of the victim’s home under the pretense of repairing a truck, and then repeatedly shot Mills with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Peterson said there is no dispute that his client shot Mills. What is at issue, the defense attorney maintained, is Kierstead’s state of mind at the time of the shooting. He said that for the prosecution to prove murder, it must show that Kierstead intentionally or knowingly acted to kill Mills.

Kierstead had known Mills for more than a decade and had helped the Cushing man build his home. Mills was disabled and receiving Social Security disability payments and was provided medications.

Those medications included opiates such as vicodin, oxycodone and methadone, Peterson said, and Mills started providing them to Kierstead who became hooked. Kierstead had paid Mills tens of thousands of dollars over the decade for drugs, Peterson said.

On Sept. 27, Kierstead was drinking heavily as soon as he awoke in the morning as a way to self-medicate himself from opiate withdrawals since Mills refused to provide him any more drugs until he paid a $250 debt, the attorney said. Kierstead went over to Mills house and the two argued inside. MIlls went outside to help Kierstead repair his truck, Peterson said, but disputed that his client lured Mills out in order to kill him.

“Once outside, the argument started again and it spiraled out of control. He snapped,” Peterson said of his client. “He didn’t even know he had shot him.”

Kierstead then went inside, wrote a suicide note and swallowed as many pills as he could find, the attorney said. The shooting occurred at about 1:30 p.m. and Kierstead awoke at about 8 p.m. inside the victim’s house, Peterson said. That’s when his client went outside, found Mills body and called 911.

Assistant Attorney General Zainea began her opening statements by holding up bottles of pills and pointing out that while many drugs can help address medical conditions, drugs such as methadone and oxycodone can be dangerous. She said people become desperate when they become addicted, so desperate that they will even kill.

Zainea said Kierstead was addicted and wanted more drugs from Mills and was angry when he couldn’t get them. After luring him outside, Kierstead grabbed his shotgun and fired into the victim’s abdomen. MIlls turned and tried to get to the safety of a shed but was shot repeatedly in the back and died outside the shed.

Kierstead was angry, feeling that Mills had ruined his life, Zainea said.

“Anger can be a powerful, powerful motivator,” she said.

Jury selection took a day and a half to complete with each of the approximately 100 members of the jury pool being interviewed individually to determine what they had heard about the case. Peterson renewed his request Tuesday for the trial to be moved outside of Knox County because of extensive pretrial publicity. Justice Jeffrey Hjelm said that was a moot point because of the very careful screening of potential jurors.

Eight women and six men from Knox County were selected to serve on the jury, which includes two alternates.

The trial is expected to last the remainder of the week.

Peterson of Rockport had tried to keep Kierstead’s confession to police from being presented at trial, saying his client was too intoxicated and under the influence of drugs, but Justice Hjelm rejected that argument last week.

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