May 28, 2020
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Maine man to be sentenced for killing his stepfather

Jen Lynds | BDN
Jen Lynds | BDN
James Peaslee, center, was found guilty of murder and using a firearm to intentionally or knowingly cause the death of another in Aroostook County Superior Court in Houlton late Tuesday, June 11, 2019. He is flanked by his attorneys, at left, John Tebbetts of Presque Isle and Stephen Smith of Bangor.

HOULTON, Maine — An Easton man who was found guilty in June of killing his stepfather will be sentenced for the crime next month.

A jury found James Peaslee, 38, guilty of murder and using a firearm to intentionally or knowingly cause the death of another on June 11 in Aroostook County Superior Court in Houlton.

He is scheduled to be sentenced for those crimes at 9 a.m. Aug. 19 in Aroostook County Superior Court in Caribou, a clerk said Wednesday.

Paul Hilenski Sr. died from a gunshot wound to the chest after Peaslee, his stepson, came to Hilenski’s home in the early evening hours and fired multiple gunshots at him, according to court testimony. Peaslee was accused of killing Hilenski Sr., 79, in January 2018, at Hilenski’s Boundary Line Road home.

The jury deliberated for four and a half hours before rendering the verdict against Peaslee, returning to the courtroom once to review some of the evidence.

The state contended that multiple security videos taken from Hilenski Sr.’s home depicted Peaslee committing the killing.

Peaslee was represented by attorneys Stephen Smith and John Tebbetts.

Assistant Attorneys General Leanne Robbin and Robert “Bud” Ellis contended that Peaslee was furious over a probate decision involving the estate of his mother, Janet Hilenski.

During closing arguments, Robbin said that Peaslee’s “resentment was building” after he learned that Hilenski Sr. was allowed to remain on the Boundary Line Road property after his mother died without a will, leaving the case to go through probate. Peaslee and his siblings received checks from the estate.

She said data showed that Peaslee’s phone was off for three hours on the day of the murder, which is when she said he was killing his stepfather.

She also reiterated statements from the testimony of Matthew Clark, who is incarcerated at Aroostook County Jail on charges of theft, burglary and receiving stolen property.

When both were incarcerated, he said, Peaslee told him that he had gone to the Mars Hill One Stop in the hours before the killing to “establish an alibi,” change into different clothes and then go to the victim’s house. Peaslee was pictured on the store’s security cameras in the hours before the killing

Robbin said that Clark could not have learned all of the details that he knew about the crime through the media, as the defense alleged.

She also reminded jurors that Peaslee’s fingerprints were found on a box of .380-caliber ammunition and a tray taken from his home during a search.

In closing statements, Smith noted that Clark was a “thief and a burglar,” contending that he was only testifying in court in the hopes of receiving a lesser sentence in his upcoming court case. He also said police officers who had identified Peaslee as the man in the security video couldn’t be “100 percent sure,” because they had not seen him often enough or close enough.

He also told jurors that the security video was “washed out” and did not clearly depict the shooter’s identity.

The defense had questioned several witnesses about Peaslee’s resemblance to his brother, George Peaslee, since the start of the trial. George Peaslee did not testify.

The victim’s security video recorded the shooting and its aftermath, including Hilenski’s death in his kitchen. An exterior video showed an individual run up the steps of the Hilenski home and knock on the door. He then fired several rounds into the home through the screen door and a window in another door. He then ducked, fired more rounds and ran away.

An interior video showed the victim going to answer the door and being fired at. He was then shown reaching for a landline phone in the kitchen, sitting down in a chair, and quickly thereafter falling to the floor and dying. Hilenski Sr. had a gun holstered at his side but was unable to get a shot off.

The defense is planning to appeal the case. Peaslee is being held without bail at Aroostook County Jail in Houlton.

This story originally appeared on The County.


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