The family and friends of murder victims often demand that Maine judges sentence defendants to life in prison. But in a state that has not had a death penalty since the late 1800s, life sentences are relatively rare.
That reality was on display this week as a judge in Portland sentenced one man convicted of murder, John D. Williams, to life in prison while a judge in Ellsworth sentenced another convicted murderer, Jalique Keene, to 58 years in prison — a sentence he’ll serve at the same time he’s serving another 30-year sentence for gross sexual assault.
Even as judges are more likely to impose long sentences than they are to impose life sentences, those long sentences — far longer than the 25-year mandatory minimum — are often de facto life sentences because of a defendant’s age.
Julio Carrillo, now 53, was sentenced to 55 years in prison for beating his 10-year-old stepdaughter, Marissa Kennedy, to death over a long period of time. His earliest possible release date, if he earns time off his sentence for good behavior, is June 25, 2065, when he would be nearly 99 years old, according to the Maine Department of Corrections.
Prisoners die younger on average than other Americans. One study has shown that for every year inmates spend incarcerated, they live two years less than if they had never been imprisoned.
Determining what sentence to impose is “more art than science,” Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen said Thursday when he sentenced Williams, 31, of Madison to life in prison for murdering Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole last year.
In other words, one judge’s 55-year sentence is another judge’s life sentence.
A 1990 decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court laid out seven conditions under which a judge may send a convicted murderer 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 apply for a convicted murderer to be sentenced to life, the state’s highest court said in its ruling in the case Maine v. John Shortsleeves.
Even when a criminal is eligible for a life sentence, the judge has the discretion to impose a lesser sentence.
In deciding on a sentence, judges are required to balance aggravating factors that could lengthen a sentence against mitigating factors that could shorten it.
An aggravating factor could be a defendant’s criminal history, lack of remorse, a refusal to take responsibility for the crime or the way the crime was committed.
Mitigating factors include the lack of a criminal history, a criminal’s expression of sincere remorse, a willingness to take responsibility by pleading guilty, a criminal assisting police in charging possible co-defendants, support from the criminal’s family members, the likelihood of rehabilitation and the defendant’s age.
Judge often outline these factors in announcing sentences.
In February 2016, Superior Court Justice Ann Murray sentenced Zachery G. Mailloux, now 27, of Bangor to life in prison for the murder of his girlfriend Brooke Locke, a 21-year-old Husson University student on Nov. 18, 2013, in her Bangor apartment. Mailloux pleaded guilty to murder and kidnapping. In exchange for his pleas, prosecutors dismissed a sexual assault charge, but Murray still considered it when deciding to impose a life sentence.
She found that the crime was premeditated and the way Locke was killed included torture, sexual abuse and extreme cruelty. Mailloux confessed that he killed Locke because she wanted to break up with him and had a new boyfriend.
Superior Court Justice Robert Murray, Ann Murray’s cousin, on Wednesday sentenced a former Bar Harbor man to 58 years in prison for a similar crime. Keene, 22, was found guilty this past spring in the rape and beating death of Mikaela Conley, 19, on the grounds of a Bar Harbor elementary school on June 1, 2018.
The judge said that he did not believe a life sentence was warranted. Robert Murray cited Keene’s relatively young age and evidence that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to mental and physical abuse he suffered as a young child as mitigating factors.
“Significantly” outweighing those factors, however, was the aggravating factor of Keene’s continuing claims that he had not committed any crime, the judge said.
One difference in the cases was that Mailloux asked to be sentenced to life. Keene’s attorneys suggested a sentence of 50 years, while prosecutors asked for life. Keene’s earliest possible release date is June 21, 2069, when he would be 72, according to the Department of Corrections.
The judge who sentenced Keene also sentenced Carrillo. But the stepfather’s sentence was more similar to the one Superior Court Justice William Stokes imposed in August in a similar case involving a child. Shawna Gatto, 44, of Wiscasset was sentenced in June to 50 years for the murder of 4-year-old Kendall Chick. Her earliest release date is Jan. 2, 2061, when she would be 87.
In determining Carrillo’s sentence, Justice Robert Murray said there were enough mitigating factors — his family support, lack of a prior criminal sentence and acceptance of responsibility through his guilty plea — to adjust the life sentence downward to 55 years. Aggravating factors he considered included the “extreme brutality” of the murder, which he called a domestic violence homicide, and the fact that Marissa Kennedy was only 10 years old.
Earlier this year, Superior Court Justice William Anderson sentenced a North Carolina man to life in prison for his role in a Millinocket home invasion that left a local businessman dead and seriously injured his wife.
Tony Locklear, 44, asked to spend the rest of his life in prison for robbing and shooting Wayne Lapierre, 59, and his wife, 34-year-old Diem Lapierre, in the basement of their home on Dec. 19, 2017. Wayne Lapierre died of bullet wounds three days later in a Bangor hospital.
The judge said he imposed the life sentence because the crime was premeditated, Locklear intended to kill two people and Diem Lapierre endured conscious suffering before she was able to call for help.
Murder convictions and their sentences are almost always appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and upheld.
BDN writer Bill Trotter contributed to this report.