CARIBOU, Maine — An Easton man found guilty in June of murdering his stepfather was sentenced to 60 years in prison on Monday during a short hearing in Aroostook County Superior Court in Caribou.
An angry James Peaslee, 38, gesticulated and muttered at police, the victim’s family and the media in the courtroom throughout the hearing, and asked Justice Harold Stewart II, “anything else you need old boy to make you sleep at night?” after the justice imposed sentencing.
Law enforcement presence was heavy in the courtroom Monday and throughout Peaslee’s trial for the killing of his stepfather, Paul Hilenski Sr., as Peaslee had several outbursts. He 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 Hilenski Sr.
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.
Assistant Attorneys General Leanne Robbin and Robert “Bud” Ellis contended 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, including Peaslee’s brother, George Peaslee.
Stewart denied a motion for a new trial for Peaslee last week based on new evidence that George Peaslee had allegedly confessed that he had committed the crime and that his brother was covering for him. In the motion denying a new trial, the justice wrote that, among other factors, George Peaslee was “unavailable as a witness to provide testimony under oath” because he is suffering from bipolar disorder with manic psychotic episodes, and was in the Intensive Mental Health Unit of the Maine State Prison.
The state requested a 60-year sentence, with Robbin saying that Peaslee was a “danger to society.” She called the victim “a hardworking man who after a second marriage was left with two very difficult stepsons.” She said that the crime against Hilenski was premeditated and that Peaslee had no remorse.
Both of Hilenski’s children, Paul Hilenski Jr. and Walter Hilenski, described their father as a kind, hardworking U.S. Army veteran who was always there for family and friends.
Paul Hilenski said his father was “best friends” with his young son. He had previously assured him that “monsters didn’t exist,” he said. That was until the day of the murder.
“After that, I had to explain to my son why a monster murdered my father,” he said.
He asked for the maximum sentence, telling Stewart that Peaslee “tried to set his brother up for murder” and that “the good people of Bridgewater would sleep better with him behind bars.”
Walter Hilenski detailed memories of his father helping everyone and developing close relationships with his children and grandchildren. He said that when he and Paul returned to clean up his father’s house after the murder, they found a chicken potpie that his father had taken one bite out of before opening the door to James Peaslee that night.
“I will never look at a potpie the same way again, and memories of that video of my father’s murder will forever run through my mind,” he said.
Peaslee’s attorneys Stephen Smith and John Tebbets did not address the court. Prior to sentencing, Peaslee addressed Stewart.
“I don’t care if you give me 25 years, 75 years, 100 years. It is all the same to me,” he said.
Stewart said that he felt 60 years was warranted because of much of what the state had argued for in their sentencing memo. Stewart said that Peaslee exhibited “no evidence of remorse,” had tried to blame someone else for the crime and had “committed almost an execution-style murder.” He also said that he had a significant criminal history, and there was a “suggestion he is anti-social.”
Robbin said the state was “very happy” with the outcome. Tebbets said that Peaslee was “very frustrated” and that they are planning an appeal.