SKOWHEGAN, Maine — The Fairfield man who murdered his wife and buried her in a shallow grave with a potato chip bag, his wedding ring, flowers, love notes and a bottle of men’s cologne called Guilty was sentenced Friday to 55 years in prison.
A jury deliberated for 40 minutes on April 9 before finding Luc Tieman guilty of shooting to death Valerie Tieman, 34, in August 2016.
Tieman, 34, a disabled veteran, faced between 25 years and life in prison.
The prosecution recommended a sentence of 55 years, while the defense urged the judge to impose a 35-year sentence.
“It is insulting that you said you lied to protect victim’s family. You lied for one reason only, to protect Luc Tieman,” Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen said in imposing the sentence at the Somerset County Courthouse.
Mullen called Tieman’s testimony at trial “poppycock” and said he was “disgusted by the web of lies” the defendant wove to cover up his crime.
The judge also quoted Psalm 97, which the victim’s family said had given them comfort.
“‘O you who love the Lord, hate evil,’” Mullen said, quoting verse 10. “He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.’”
Lawyers on both sides said they had never heard a judge quote Scripture at a sentencing.
Tieman did not address the court but took the stand in his own defense and gave the closing argument to the jury himself. He denied killing his wife.
The victim’s family asked the judge to impose a life sentence.
“A big part of me is gone,” Valerie Tieman’s mother, Sarajean Harmon of Taylors, South Carolina, said in a statement read by the victim witness advocate. “Even today I am just overwhelmed by what an evil-hearted man Luc is.”
The victim’s brother, Greg Harmon, who is on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, told the judge that Tieman was devoid of all the core values he was taught by the U.S. Army in boot camp. Her father, Allen Harmon, called Tieman “a coward” and said the family put her maiden name on the gravestone.
Tieman’s mother, Laurelle Tieman of Fairfield, described her eldest child as the first to apologize and to offer to help neighbors. His time in three combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq changed him dramatically, she told the judge.
“He was dying before our eyes,” she said of her son’s behavior after he returned from war. She described him as being “hypervigilant” due to post-traumatic stress disorder that left him 100 percent disabled.
“I’m not asking for an excuse, I’m asking for understanding,” she said.
Tieman wept as his mother and father asked for mercy. It was the first time he has shown any emotion in court.
Laurelle Tieman asked Mullen “to balance justice with mercy” and to consider her son, the whole person.
Before going to trial, Tieman rejected a plea offer of 40 years, defense attorney Stephen Smith of Augusta said in his six-page sentencing memorandum dated Monday.
Valerie Tieman’s body was found Sept. 20, 2016, in a shallow grave on wooded property owned by Luc Tieman’s parents, according to trial testimony. Her parents, not her husband, reported her missing on Sept. 9, 2016, after they had not heard from her in a month.
Tieman initially said she had disappeared from a Walmart parking lot, according to trial testimony. He later said she’d left him for another man. Tieman also helped police search for his missing wife.
Evidence at the trial showed that Tieman had a new girlfriend he planned to move in with.
The Harmon family left the courthouse without speaking to the media.
Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin told reporters after the sentencing that the victim’s family was very happy the judge imposed the sentence prosecutors recommended. They also took solace in Mullen’s recognition that Tieman lied on the stand and in his quoting Scripture.
“The Harmons feel their faith has helped get them through the loss of their daughter and the trial,” Robbin said.
Smith said his client was disappointed in the sentence and will appeal his conviction to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Mullen said in imposing the 55-year sentence that because of the grief and anguish expressed by the victim’s family and Tieman’s total lack of remorse, he was tempted to impose a life sentence but did not want to risk it being reversed on appeal.
Tieman did not qualify for a life sentence due to a 1990 state supreme court decision, State of Maine v. John Shortsleeves, that laid out seven conditions under which a judge may send a defendant to prison for life.
They are: premeditation; murder accompanied by torture, sexual abuse or other extreme cruelty; murder committed in a penal institution by an inmate; multiple victims; murder of a hostage; a previous murder conviction; or the murder of an on-duty law enforcement officer.
One or more of them must exist for a convicted murderer to be sentenced to life. The prosecution and the defense agreed that it was not proven that the murder of Valerie Tieman was premeditated.
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