BRIDGEWATER, Maine — An Easton man found guilty in June of killing his stepfather has requested a new trial.
A hearing on the matter will be held in Aroostook County Superior Court in Houlton next week.
James Peaslee, 38, was found guilty of murder, following a June 11 jury trial at Houlton Superior Court, for using a firearm to intentionally or knowingly cause the death of his stepfather, Paul Hilenski Sr.
He will be sentenced on Nov. 18 in Caribou Superior Court.
Hilenski Sr. died from a gunshot wound to the chest after Peaslee came to his home in the evening hours of January 2018 and fired multiple gunshots at him, according to court testimony.
The 79-year-old victim lived alone at his home on the Boundary Line Road in Bridgewater. Multiple security videos taken from Hilenski’s home depicted the killing.
The hearing on the motion will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 12, in Houlton.
According to court documents filed by Peaslee’s defense attorney, Stephen Smith of Augusta, Peaslee’s motion stems from the discovery of a letter provided to him by the state that could not have been discovered before the trial.
Dated July 29, the letter stated that State Police Detective Cheryl Holmes had by chance spoken with an inmate, Stephanie Vierkant.
According to court documents, Vierkant said that George Peaslee had told her that he had actually killed Hilenski, and that his brother had taken the blame because George Peaslee had a family. Vierkant stated that the confession happened while she was at a trailer park in Washburn to purchase drugs. George Peaslee came into a residence, described his brother’s arrest, and said that he “didn’t even effing do it.”
Smith wrote in the motion that the corroborating evidence for the statement is that George Peaslee was “at the scene of the crime before, and on the morning of the murder,” and had just as much of a motive as his brother “to want [the victim] dead.”
Assistant Attorneys General Leanne Robbin and Robert “Bud” Ellis contended at trial that the motive for the crime centered on Peaslee’s fury over a probate decision involving the estate of his mother, Janet Hilenski. After she died suddenly without a will, Hilenski Sr. was allowed to remain on the property after the case went through probate.
Peaslee and his siblings received checks from the estate.
The defense questioned several witnesses about Peaslee’s resemblance to his brother, George Peaslee, during the trial. George Peaslee did not testify nor make an appearance in the courtroom.
Smith further addressed the security video that showed the killing. He argued that George and James Peaslee bear a “striking resemblance” to each other, but that George does not have tattoos on his arm.
“This is of critical importance, because the murderer in the video also did not have tattoos on his arm,” he wrote. “These are all factors that corroborate the truthfulness of the statement.”
Smith also stressed in the motion that George Peaslee was “the only plausible alternate suspect, and was at the home of the deceased the night before, and the morning of, his murder.”
At the time of trial, however, Smith wrote that he had no direct confession from George Peaslee to use in his client’s defense. Prosecutors noted at trial that data showed that Peaslee’s phone was off for three hours on the day of the murder, which is when they said he was killing his stepfather.
Peaslee’s fingerprints were also found on a box of .380-caliber ammunition and a tray taken from his home during a search. Several police officers also identified James Peaslee as the man in Hilenski’s security video, and Matthew Clark, an inmate at the Aroostook County Jail at the time of the trial, also testified that 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 Friday that the state has “every confidence in the verdict and we do not believe that the alleged statement entitles the defendant to a new trial.”
She said that she expects a ruling on the motion before Peaslee is sentenced.