BANGOR, Maine — A Superior Court judge will decide soon whether one of two men convicted last year in connection with a triple murder in Bangor will get a new trial because of alleged racist comments made in closing arguments.
Randall Daluz, 37, of Brockton, Massachusetts, is seeking a new trial. His co-defendant, Nicholas Sexton, 34, of Warwick, Rhode Island, is not.
Both were convicted of murder and arson on May 28 after a month-long trial in Bangor.
On Thursday, Superior Court Justice William Anderson heard oral arguments on Daluz’s motion for a new trial at the Penobscot Judicial Center. He took the matter under advisement but said he would issue a written decision in “the next couple of weeks” in the case police called a drug deal gone bad.
Motions for new trials often are filed in murder trials before defendants are sentenced. They almost always are denied but often are the basis for appeals to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Attorneys for Daluz claim their client, an African-American, was denied a fair trial because of improper statements made by then-Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese and Sexton’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Toothaker of Ellsworth, during their closing arguments to the jury, and because the defendants were tried jointly. Both defendants opposed a joint trial numerous times before and during the trial.
The motion for a new trial was filed in June by Daluz’s attorneys, Hunter Tzovarras and Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor.
“[Toothaker’s] closing arguments asked the jury to place themselves in Mr. Daluz’s shoes and suggested at least twice that Mr. Daluz could not explain the events of Aug. 12-13, 2012,” Tzovarras wrote in the motion. “These comments impinged on Mr. Daluz’s right to remain silent and contrasted his silence to Mr. Sexton’s testimony. In addition, [Sexton’s attorney] made comments in his closing argument that Mr. Daluz [an African-American] was the more likely defendant to carry a firearm because he was a minority and that he came from a dangerous neighborhood.”
The motion said Marchese’s closing argument implied that “the standard of proof in a case involving a fire is less than a non-fire case or involved something less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Tzovarras told Anderson at Thursday’s hearing that the U.S. Supreme Court has through recent decisions told lower courts “to eradicate race” from proceedings.
The state objected to the new trial motion. Sexton’s attorney’s did not.
“The introduction of race into a trial in an effort to incite racial prejudice is inexcusable,” Assistant Attorney General Deb Cashman wrote in the state’s response to the motion. “However, that is not the case at hand.”
Cashman also said in the response and told the judge Thursday the motion should be denied because the objection was not raised when closing arguments were made.
“The characterizations [Toothaker] made during [his closing] argument, when viewed in the context of the entire trial, was not so prejudicial as to affect the interest of justice,” Cashman wrote.
She told Anderson that references were made throughout the trial to the defendants’ race by witnesses and attorneys. Sexton testified that as a white man he was a minority in Brockton, Massachusetts, where a majority of the population is black and Hispanic. Daluz was a minority in Bangor due to his race, Toothaker said during the trial.
The Penobscot County jury found Daluz guilty May 28 on three counts of murder and one count of arson after a month-long trial. After deliberating for nearly 45 hours over five days, jurors found Sexton guilty of the murder of Nicolle Lugdon and of arson, but they could not reach a verdict on the murder counts in connection with the deaths of Daniel Borders and Lucas Tuscano.
The charred bodies of Lugdon, 24, of Eddington, Borders, 26, of Hermon and Tuscano, 28, of Bradford were found in a burning rental car Aug. 13, 2012, at 22 Target Industrial Circle in Bangor. They had been shot to death, and the car they were in was set on fire to destroy evidence, according to testimony.
Sexton took the stand May 19 and said Daluz shot Borders accidentally but killed Tuscano and then Lugdon intentionally. Sexton said that Daluz forced him to set the car on fire and threatened to kill him and his children if he went to the police.
Daluz did not take the stand.
Sentencing dates for Sexton and Daluz have not been set. Both men face between 25 years and life in prison.