PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday upheld the life sentence of a local man convicted in March 2008 in Penobscot County Superior Court of brutally beating, hog-tying and suffocating a Carmel man.
Peter Tuller, 36, was sentenced to life last May for killing Michael Demmons, 47, on June 25, 2006, in a Bangor apartment. Tuller faced between 25 years and life in prison.
The justices heard oral arguments on Tuller’s appeal in January at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland. The court issued a two-page memorandum of decision in the case instead of a longer opinion.
Memorandums are issued in cases when the court finds that the legal issues and precedents argued are well established and when the justices unanimously agree on the decision.
“The circumstances of this case, in which the victim was so severely beaten that his lung collapsed and was hog-tied, support the court’s finding of extreme cruelty,” the justices said in the Tuller case.
Life sentences in Maine are rare. In 1990, the state supreme court outlined seven conditions under which a judge may impose a life sentence. One or more of them must exist for a convicted murderer to be sentenced to life in prison.
They are murder for hire; murder of a hostage; murder of multiple victims; murder of an on-duty law enforcement officer; murder of an inmate in a penal institution; murder after a previous murder conviction; and murder accompanied by torture, sexual abuse or other extreme cruelty inflicted on the victim.
Verne Pradie Jr. of Auburn argued in the appeal that a jury and not a judge should decide if one or more of the conditions that would warrant a life sentence is present. The justices disagreed.
Demmons was found badly beaten and hog-tied with plastic garbage bags over his head in the Pier Street apartment of Maria Santos, 46. He had been staying with Santos, who was described at the trial as a friend, for about a month. Tuller was described as her ex-boyfriend.
At the trial, Dr. Margaret Greenwald, the state medical examiner, testified that Demmons had 10 to 12 skull fractures and that a majority of his ribs were fractured more than once. He also suffered brain hemorrhages and neck trauma.
Demmons was described by his sister, Laurie Stevenson, 43, of Brunswick as having the demeanor of a 14-year-old. She said shortly after his death that her brother suffered from cerebral palsy and would not have been able to fight off Tuller.