CARIBOU, Maine — The Florida octogenarian who admitted to strangling to death his friend of four years in Presque Isle last July testified Thursday that he felt no guilt for killing the 86-year-old because he was “afraid for his life.”
Robert Craig, 81, of Clearwater, Florida, told jurors how he killed Leo Corriveau at the victim’s Presque Isle home on July 21, 2016, and he participated in a demonstration in the courtroom. Craig said he killed Corriveau in self-defense after the two got into a fight over Corriveau reneging on plans to finance Craig’s trip back to Florida after the two had traveled to Presque Isle together.
Craig said Corriveau struck him first, knocked him down and then sat on his chest to constrict his breathing. He said he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and asthma and could not breathe, so he put his hands around the victim’s neck and “squeezed until Corriveau let go.”
Over objections by the prosecution, Craig and his court appointed defense attorney John Tebbetts demonstrated in slow motion how the murder occurred for the jurors. Craig got down on the floor and Tebbetts mimicked sitting on his chest while playing the part of Corriveau during the demonstration. Craig then simulated putting his hands around Tebbetts throat.
With co-defense attorney Stephen Smith questioning him, Craig testified for about an hour and a half before Justice Harold Stewart II adjourned court for the day. Cross examination will begin Friday morning, followed by closing arguments.
Craig is charged with intentional murder, which carries a prison sentence of 25 years to life.
Craig and Corriveau came to Maine to stay at Corriveau’s Presque Isle home on July 12, according to an affidavit filed by Maine State Police Sgt. Darrin Crane.
Nine days later, Corriveau was strangled so hard that the hyoid bone in his neck was broken, according to former State Medical Examiner Margaret Greenwald, who performed the autopsy. Her report said he also suffered rib fractures on both sides of his chest and multiple layers of hemorrhaging in his neck.
Dr. Jonathan Arden, a forensic pathologist who testified by telephone from Virginia for the defense on Thursday, said that in his opinion, the injuries Corriveau suffered were “consistent with Craig’s version of events.”
Under cross examination by the state, however, Arden admitted that he was focused on Corriveau’s neck injuries and not so much on the rib fractures. He acknowledged to Assistant Attorney General John Alsop that the injuries “were also consistent with a direct attack on Mr. Corriveau.”
Craig is accused of fleeing the home after the killing with about $400, Corriveau’s prized violin and the victim’s red Buick Enclave SUV. Craig testified that he spent one day in Bar Harbor, where he ate a double lobster dinner, before leaving the victim’s car at a bus depot in Hermon and boarding a bus back to Florida.
Police arrested Craig near his home in Florida on July 28.
Assistant Attorney Generals Robert “Bud” Ellis and Alsop, who are prosecuting the case together, contend that Craig murdered Corriveau in a rage and left his body on the lawn for his family to discover 40 hours after his death.
On Thursday morning, before the state rested its case against Craig, prosecutors played back audio of telephone calls that were recorded while Craig talked to his nephew, Thomas Craig Jr., from the Pinellas County Jail in Florida. In the recordings, Craig admitted that he “just snapped.”
He disparaged Corriveau, calling him “goofy” and “Mr. Magoo” during the conversation. He also told his nephew that Corriveau had generously taken him out to dinner a number of times during the visit, but that Corriveau basically had held him “prisoner” in Presque Isle.
“I’m pretty sure I am going to be in here [jail] for the balance of my life,” Craig told his nephew, despite the fact that Corriveau “ain’t gonna say anything, because he’s gone.”
Jerad Bell, 32, of Bangor, also testified for the state Thursday, saying that he sat next to Craig on the bus ride from Maine to Florida, and that Craig bought him meals in exchange for carrying his luggage. Bell testified that at one point, Craig asked him to write a thank you letter to send to Corriveau.
“He told me that he could not write well,” Bell said. “I thought I was doing a good thing.”
The letter, which was mailed and received by the Corriveau family, thanked Corriveau for the visit and the $400, and advised him where his car was parked.
Craig testified Thursday that he sent the letter to be “polite” and because he was not sure when he left the scene that Corriveau was really dead. He testified that he simply did not check for a pulse after the fight, and simply left Corriveau”s house. He also acknowledged that he did not call the police because he feared being arrested.