WEST BATH, Maine — A hearing set to begin Thursday morning in West Bath District Court will determine whether a Bowdoinham teen will be tried as an adult for the February 2018 death of his grandmother.
Dominic Sylvester, now 18, is charged with depraved indifference murder in the Feb. 26, 2018, death of his grandmother, 55-year-old Beulah “Marie” Sylvester, who was also the youth’s guardian and adoptive mother.
Dominic Sylvester was 16 years old at the time of his grandmother’s death. According to court documents, Beulah Sylvester had been Dominic Sylvester’s legal guardian, but at the time of his initial court appearance, he was in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.
According to court documents, at 8:50 a.m. on Feb. 26, 2018, Dominic Sylvester called 911 seeking medical assistance for his grandmother. He initially told the 911 operator that he had found her unconscious and bleeding after he took a shower.
Dominic Sylvester was taken from the home to Mid Coast Hospital by an uncle after his grandmother was taken there, according to documents filed by the prosecution. While at the hospital, he was with family members, and he met twice with detectives for less than 90 minutes total.
During the first interview, Sylvester allegedly admitted to a detective that “he had struck the victim in the head with a stick.” The detectives ended the interviews after Sylvester allegedly “made a suicidal remark,” at which point Sylvester was admitted to the hospital.
He was hospitalized for two days, then arrested.
At his arraignment in March 2018, Sylvester’s attorney, Thomas Berry, entered a “denial” on Sylvester’s behalf, which in a juvenile case is the equivalent of a not guilty plea.
Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam, who is prosecuting the case, asked that Sylvester be detained for a number of reasons, including that he has indicated a desire to harm himself.
District Court Judge Beth Dobson granted Elam’s request for a diagnostic evaluation and Berry’s request that Sylvester be evaluated by the state forensic service for “abnormal condition of mind.”
During the hearing to determine whether Sylvester will be tried as an adult — for which the court has allowed nine days — Berry will introduce expert testimony by forensic psychologist Dr. Diane Tennies. A November 2018 evaluation and subsequent update by Tennies were sealed by the court.
The defense also lists 51 potential witnesses at the hearing, including providers and staff at Sweetser, Long Creek, Maine Behavioral Health and other organizations, as well as staff from Bowdoinham Community School and Mount Ararat High School in Topsham. Berry included as exhibits DHHS records for Dominic Sylvester and Beulah Sylvester, and Dominic Sylvester’s medical, psychological and counseling records.
Elam lists 80 pieces of evidence including photographs of “red/brown stains” on and near the sofa and living room carpet of the Post Road home and “sticks” from beside the refrigerator, kitchen table and sofa — one “with hair” on it — as well as 27 photos of the victim’s body.
The list also includes 16 Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office reports dating from 2013 of calls to the house for possible suicide interventions, family fights, family assists, assault, a weapons offense and two sex offenses, as well as records indicating Beulah Sylvester suffered a fractured right humerus in 2016 and a fractured right wrist in 2017.
Maine law requires a district court judge to consider three factors in deciding whether to try juveniles charged with felonies as adults: the seriousness of the crime; the characteristics of the juvenile, including age, maturity and criminal history; and the sentencing alternatives available to the juvenile court.
Judges in other juvenile murder cases have given weight to how the crimes were committed, the intent of the defendants, and how close they were to legal adulthood.
If Dobson finds that Sylvester should be tried as an adult, the case would be presented to the Sagadahoc County grand jury. If the grand jury indicted him, an arraignment date would be set and the case would move forward toward a trial.
If Sylvester is tried as a juvenile, the case would move to a trial before a district court judge, without a jury.
Settlement discussions took place throughout the fall, according to court documents.
Both Berry and Elam declined to comment on the case.
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.
To reach a suicide prevention hotline, call 888-568-1112 or 800-273-TALK (8255), or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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