CARIBOU, Maine – After less than 45 minutes of deliberation Friday, jurors found a Florida octogenarian guilty of murder in the death of an 86-year-old Presque Isle man last July.
Robert Craig, 81, of Clearwater, Florida, was emotionless as the jury forewoman announced the verdict in the trial that started Wednesday in Aroostook County Superior Court. Craig testified on Thursday that he strangled to death Leo Corriveau, his friend of four years, in self-defense after the two of them got into a fight over the victim allegedly reneging on a deal to finance Craig’s travel back from Maine to his home state. Corriveau, who wintered in Florida, had driven Craig to Corriveau’s home on July 12, 2016, according to an affidavit filed by Maine State Police Sgt. Darrin Crane.
Craig testified that he was “afraid for his life” and had no choice but to kill Corriveau outside the victim’s home on July 21, 2016. He testified that Corriveau struck him first, knocked him down and then sat on his chest to constrict his breathing. Craig told jurors that he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and asthma and could not breathe, so he put his hands around the victim’s neck and “squeezed the life right out of him.”
Craig was represented by court appointed defense attorneys Stephen Smith and John Tebbetts. Assistant Attorney Generals Robert “Bud” Ellis and John Alsop prosecuted the case before Superior Court Justice Harold Stewart II.
During cross examination by Ellis Friday, Craig acknowledged that after the murder, he did not call police or paramedics because he was “panicked and scared” and “didn’t want to go to jail.” He said he was not sure that Corriveau was really dead, because he did not check for a pulse before leaving the body on the lawn, where family members found it 40 hours later.
The defendant also admitted that after Corriveau was killed, he rifled through his wallet before fleeing the home in 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 driving to Hermon, where he left the victim’s car at a bus depot and boarded a bus back to Florida.
While police and prosecutors accused Craig of stealing $400 and Corriveau’s prized violin, the defendant denied taking any money from Corriveau’s wallet. He said he did go through the wallet but did not take any money from it. Craig said he left Presque Isle with $400 that Corriveau had given him earlier during his 9-day stay.
He also said that he began to feel like a prisoner in Maine after Corriveau would not give him the financial assistance he had promised so Craig could go back home to Florida.
The older, thinner 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.
During closing arguments, Ellis told the jury that Craig had been “highly deceptive” after the murder. He pointed out that Craig initially lied to Maine State Police detectives who traveled to Florida to interview him, telling them that Corriveau was alive when he left. The prosecutor added that at no time did Craig tell the detectives, who arrested him near his Florida home on July 28, that he had killed Corriveau in self-defense. Ellis said that Craig also had taken the victim’s violin and attempted to sell it, something that Craig denied. He also reiterated that Craig had convinced Jerad Bell, 32, of Bangor, to help him write a thank you note to the victim, telling him he’d had a good time on the trip, even though he had strangled him several days earlier. The letter was mailed and received by the Corriveau family.
“Mr. Craig was trying to create an alibi and take the heat off himself,” Ellis told the jury. “I think the lobster dinner was one last chance to enjoy himself before he got caught. He did all of that with Mr. Corriveau’s money. … There is no way to justify this and say that he had to use that level of force against the victim.”
Defense attorney Smith told the jurors in his closing arguments that his client took the violin so that he could use the guitar case it came with as a suitcase.
“Do we like the fact that he took the wallet out of his pants? No,” Smith admitted. “But he put it back and didn’t take any money.”
He said that in Craig’s mind, he was being attacked by Corriveau and “had to end it for his safety.”
After the verdict, Ellis said that he was pleased with the decision and added that it was obvious the jury did not believe Craig’s testimony.
Co-defense attorneys Smith and Tebbetts both said they disagreed with the verdict and they would quickly mount an appeal.
“Mr. Craig is a very nice old man who got caught up in an unfortunate incident,” said Smith. “We respect the jury, but we simply think that they got it wrong.”
The Corriveau family, speaking as a group after the verdict, said that they miss Corriveau but felt “awesome” about the verdict.
“It could not have gone any better,” said Wayne Corriveau, the victim’s son, who acknowledged that the hardest part of the trial was seeing Craig in person again. “He never had any feelings of guilt after he killed my father.”
Craig will be sentenced on Sept. 12. He faces a sentence of 25 years to life.