BANGOR, Maine — After calling him “one of the most genuinely remorseful people who has stood before me,” Superior Court Justice Ann Murray on Tuesday sentenced David Coon to serve 10 years behind bars for killing his girlfriend.
Murray sentenced Coon, 51, of Bangor at the Penobscot Judicial Center to 18 years in prison with all but 10 years suspended and four years of probation.
Coon pleaded guilty Jan. 29 to manslaughter in connection with the death of Sherry Clifford, 49, of Bangor on May 3, 2013. His plea hearing began Jan. 2, but it was not completed until four weeks later.
He issued an emotional apology in court to Clifford’s family members, who urged that he receive the maximum sentence of 30 years.
“I’m so, so sorry,” Coon, who cried and sometimes sobbed throughout the two-hour sentencing hearing, told the victim’s family and friends. “We had plans. I wish that she was with me now.”
That was not enough for Clifford’s son, Eric Clifford of Bangor.
“Ten years is something,” he said outside the courthouse. Clifford, who clutched a baby carrier in which his 3-month-old daughter rested, said he did not accept Coon’s apology.
“She has my mother’s initials — SMC,” he said of his daughter. “Her name’s Sophia Marie Clifford. Marie was my mother’s middle name.”
In sentencing Coon, Murray found alcohol to be a factor in the incident that led to Sherry Clifford’s death. The judge said that the autopsy showed her blood alcohol level was .30, more than four times the legal limit to operate a vehicle. Coon admitted that he also was drinking that night.
Murray said that Clifford and Coon got into a fight the night she died because she wanted him to go out and buy more alcohol but he did not want her to continue drinking. The judge also said that she was not “suggesting that Miss Clifford’s actions caused her own death.”
“She initiated the physical struggle,” Murray said shortly before imposing the sentence. “He got Miss Clifford on the floor. She was biting and kicking him but the defendant could have taken different actions. He could have called 911 or run out the door.”
Clifford, 49, was found dead on the floor of the Jefferson Street apartment the couple shared in Bangor after Coon called 911 after he realized she was dead to report that “she OD’d or she drank herself to death,” the affidavit said.
She was a native of Bangor and owned a hair salon in the area for at least eight years.
Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, deputy chief medical examiner, determined that Clifford’s death was “caused by asphyxiation with some neck compression,” according to the affidavit filed when Coon was arrested.
“Flomenbaum discovered hemorrhaging in the neck region just under the jaw bone,” it said. “There was also hemorrhaging around Clifford’s hyoid bone.”
The hyoid bone is the U-shaped bone at the base of the tongue.
Coon entered an Alford plea in January. This type of plea — named for the U.S. Supreme Court case North Carolina v. Alford, decided in 1970 — is “a guilty plea that a defendant enters as part of a plea bargain, without actually admitting guilt,” according to Black’s Law Dictionary.
Coon claimed that he did not remember touching Clifford’s neck but said he was responsible for her death. Murray found Coon guilty of the crime.
On Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea recommended Coon be sentenced to 25 years in prison with all but 12 years suspended, followed by four years of probation. Defense attorney Logan Perkins of Bangor argued for a sentence of 12-15 years with all but six to eight years suspended and the same number of years of probation.
In addition to prison time and probation, Murray ordered Coon to pay nearly $4,000 in restitution to the Victim’s Compensation Program, which paid for Clifford’s funeral expenses.
Coon originally was charged with murder. In exchange for his guilty plea to manslaughter, the prosecution has said it will dismiss the murder charge.
The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 30 years in prison. The sentence for murder is 25 years to life in prison.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.