BANGOR, Maine — A man serving a life sentence for killing a 4-year-old child by placing her in an oven more than 30 years ago took a small step toward a new trial when a federal judge Friday refused to grant the state’s motion to dismiss the case.
John Amos Lane, 66, of Auburn, was convicted of murder in the 1984 death of Angela Palmer. In seeking a new trial, Lane, who is incarcerated at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, claims his court-appointed attorney, James Burke of Lewiston, was ineffective.
Lane’s former attorney, who is not named in court documents, allegedly failed to file a motion about Lane’s competency to stand trial; to investigate and develop facts regarding Lane’s experience with exorcism and rage; to object to a life sentence; and to file a motion for a post-conviction review among other things.
Lane put the child in the oven in a Main Street. apartment and placed a chair under the handle of the door to make it impossible to open it from inside and turned it to a high temperature as part of a “bizarre ritual,” according to court documents.
He had a long history of mental illness and psychiatric treatment prior to the incident.
He was found guilty of murder in 1985 following a two-week, jury-waived trial moved from Androscoggin Superior Court in Auburn to Penobscot County Superior Court in Bangor. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld Lane’s conviction in 1987, according to documents filed in federal court. His right to a post-conviction review of his sentence expired in 1999. After a 2014 application to appeal his conviction was denied, Lane turned to the federal court system.
Lane’s mental condition was a central issue at his trial and is central to his motion seeking a new trial filed in January in U.S. District Court in Bangor.
The Maine Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted Lane, in March filed a motion to dismiss Lane’s claim. In it, Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber argued that Lane filed his claim 17 years after his appeal rights expired.
Lane said that although his right to appeal in federal court expired on April 24, 1996, it did not apply to his case because of his treatment for mental illness “with powerful antipsychotic and psychotropic drugs that render him incoherent and cognitively diminished, if not incapacitated.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge John Nivison said in his recommended decision, which must be approved by U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen, that Lane “had established a prima facie case” that the statute of limitations should not apply to him.
The next step in the case before Lane could be granted a new trial would be for the state to file a motion for summary judgment and for Nivison to hold a hearing on all the issues Lane raised concerning his former attorney’s ineffective representation of him at his 1985 trial.
Macomber said he would file a more detailed motion if Torresen endorses Nivison’s decision.