A Waldo County man accused of fatally shooting another man last month in Swanville will be held without bail, a Superior Court Justice ruled Friday.
Austin McDevitt, 22, of Morrill has been charged with murder in connection with the March 15 shooting death of Shane Sauer, 26, of Belfast. A hearing was held at Waldo Judicial Center to determine if McDevitt, who is accused of a capital crime, should be held without bail.
Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea, who is prosecuting the case, and Rick Morse of Rockland, the defense attorney, agreed that there is probable cause that McDevitt committed the act. But the way they characterized the murder, and whether McDevitt should be allowed bail, was very different.
Zainea argued strongly that he should be held without bail and described Sauer’s death as an “execution-like murder.”
“If there were ever a suggestion of overkill, and I use that term not loosely here, it’s this case,” she said. “It’s clear, based upon the information contained in the affidavit, that this defendant was able to set a goal and accomplish a goal.”
Prior to the hearing, McDevitt turned around to smile at and acknowledge the nearly 20 friends and family members who came to the courthouse to support him. Sitting separately, a group of Sauer’s family members listened emotionally as the two attorneys described the circumstances around his killing.
According to the state police affidavit filed in connection with McDevitt’s arrest, Sauer allegedly had been shot to death during a dispute over a woman. McDevitt allegedly shot Sauer seven times after Sauer jumped him in a camper where McDevitt and the woman were sleeping.
McDevitt, who drove to the Belfast Police Department after the shooting, allegedly told police that Sauer’s hands had been empty when he decided to shoot. He told police he had pointed his gun at Sauer’s chest because “he knew not to shoot to wound.”
Zainea said that although McDevitt did not have a prior criminal record as an adult, he did have several red flags in his recent history that should give the court reason to deny bail. The year before the murder, McDevitt’s then-girlfriend asked for a protection-from-abuse order against him and when a judge issued a temporary order, McDevitt was asked to surrender his guns. But after McDevitt and the woman reached an agreement, the guns were returned to him, she said.
In 2017, police were called to the Searsport transfer station because McDevitt allegedly had been target shooting in an “unsafe manner,” Zainea said. And two weeks before the murder, police were called to the Big Apple in Belfast because McDevitt allegedly had been brandishing a firearm and making threats against a person while at the gas pump, she said.
But Morse said that his client should be granted bail, arguing that McDevitt is a lifelong resident of Waldo County who has family, friends and close ties to the community, and that he would not be a flight risk. At the time of the shooting, he was living with his grandmother in Morrill and expected to start a new job at Bath Iron Works soon.
“This is a determined, goal-focused young man,” Morse said.
The attorney said that his client’s previous brushes with law enforcement were minor ones, adding that it was important to note the court did not find that McDevitt should permanently relinquish his guns because of the protection-from-abuse order. He also said that police searched McDevitt and his vehicle during the incident at the Belfast Big Apple, and when they did not find any weapons, he was cleared.
The attorney said that on the day of the killing, his client, who had been invited to the woman’s house, was sleeping at 4:30 a.m. when Sauer “snuck up under cover of darkness.”
“Mr. McDevitt woke up to being punched repeatedly. He was horribly beaten for a period of time. A fight ensued,” Morse said, adding that his client legally has a concealed carry permit.
McDevitt had his gun when he left the cabin, Morse said. It was cold out, and McDevitt was wearing only socks in the snow and mud, and was reeling from injuries that included Sauer having grabbed his testicles and squeezed his penis, the attorney said.
“All of this caused significant confusion, pain and fear,” Morse said.
His client’s cellphone was dead, and then Sauer allegedly came “storming out of the structure” and threatened to kill McDevitt, the attorney said.
“I’m going to submit this was not an execution. This was a valid self-defense,” Morse said.
Moreover, the attorney said that it was important to note that his client voluntarily drove to the police station to turn himself in.
“He did absolutely the most responsible thing,” Morse said.
Zainea, in a short rebuttal, pushed back against this version of events.
“Once Mr. Sauer was on the ground, he unloaded the entire clip into Mr. Sauer,” she said. “It’s difficult to understand how that was self-defense.”
Zainea also said that the fact that McDevitt turned himself in instead of fleeing the scene likely wasn’t solely because he was a good citizen.
“He had to, because there were witnesses,” she said. “There were witnesses who could identify him and talk about what he did.”
In the end, although Justice Robert Murray found that although there were factors in McDevitt’s favor, they were outweighed by other factors that led him to deny bail. He specifically cited the allegations involving the use of a firearm in such a way that it necessitated a police response and the allegations of abuse raised in the matter of the protection-from-abuse order.