A Bangor man who killed two people nearly two years ago by setting the box truck where they were sleeping on fire was sentenced Tuesday at the Penobscot Judicial Center to life in prison at the end of an emotionally charged two-hour hearing.
John De St. Croix , 26, was found guilty last year of murder, felony murder and arson in the deaths of Michael Bridges, 43, and Desiree York, 36, who were sleeping in the back of a box truck the night of March 28, 2018. The truck, owned by Dunnett appliance store, was located at the Penobscot Plaza shopping center on Washington Street when De St. Croix set it on fire.
In imposing the life sentence, Superior Court Justice Ann Murray called the crimes “vicious.” One important factor she considered was that De St. Croix did nothing to help Bridges and York when he heard them crying out for help, she said.
“The defendant stood by while that screaming was happening,” Murray said. “They were screaming for their lives and the defendant stood by and let this series of events continue to progress. The fire was becoming this inferno and he made no effort to stop it.”
Family and friends of the victims urged the judge to impose a sentence that would ensure De St. Croix never hurts anyone again. Several of them broke down and sobbed as they spoke.
As York’s mother, Brenda York, was speaking to the judge, her husband, Donald York Sr., began calling the defendant names and swearing at him. He stood up and began moving toward De St. Croix.
Bangor police officers, who investigated the murder and were in the gallery for the sentencing, immediately surrounded him and escorted him from the courtroom so he could calm down. Murray took a short break. When court reconvened, officers repositioned themselves in the courtroom. Two officers sat behind the defense table and another sat behind York’s father.
Donald and Brenda York of Knox are raising Desiree York’s 8-year-old daughter.
“I hope that he goes the same way my daughter did,” Donald York told Murray.
York’s sister, Torie York, said that Desiree “comes to me in my dreams and she’s happy and she’s healthy.”
Torie York said that she, like her sister, “struggled with addiction.” She said that since Desiree York’s death, the family no longer gathers for functions like they did before her murder.
Her brother, Dallas York, said his sister was not homeless the entire time she lived in Bangor but had an apartment for at least two years.
“The door was always open for her to come home,” he said.
He also told the judge that he has named his daughter Desiree after his sister.
Bridges’ brother, Mark Bridges, said that he misses his brother everyday.
“He didn’t deserve to be taken out of the world like this,” he said. “I just want to ask you to see that we get some justice. I don’t know why such a cowardly thing had to be done.”
No one was in the courtroom Tuesday to support De St. Croix.
De St. Croix and the victims were members of Bangor’s homeless community who spent the late afternoon and evening of March 28, 2018, hanging out and drinking under the Penobscot Bridge. At some point after 8:30 p.m., Bridges and York took sleeping bags and went into the back of the box truck to sleep.
Autopsies showed that Bridges, who went by the nickname Georgia, and York died of smoke inhalation. Both suffered second- and third-degree burns over 30 to 40 percent of their bodies, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Lisa Funte testified at De St. Croix’s trial in March 2019.
Investigators from the Maine fire marshal’s office concluded that the fire was set near the rear driver’s side tire using cardboard and other debris. Tests concluded that an accelerant similar to lighter fluid was found at the scene and might have been used to fuel the flames.
Surveillance videos from security cameras behind the plaza showed a person who could not be identified move between a dumpster behind Dunnett and the fire that night shortly before 10 p.m. A few minutes later, De St. Croix could be identified walking away from the fire carrying tools that Dunnett employees had apparently left in the box truck. He called 911 at 10:01 p.m. to report the fire after he heard a woman pounding from inside, according to testimony.
De St. Croix did not address the court Tuesday.
Dressed in a blue dress shirt and khaki pants, De St. Croix appeared to have lost a significant amount of weight since his first court appearance nearly two years ago. He also has shaven his head and grown a long goatee without a moustache.
De St. Croix had been held at the Penobscot County Jail without bail since his arrest March 30, 2018.
The penalty for murder is 25 years to life in prison. Under Maine law, a defendant may be sentenced to life when more than one person is killed in an incident. The felony murder and arson charges carry penalties of up to 30 years in prison.
Under Maine law, a person is guilty of felony murder when a death is caused during the commission of a felony crime such as arson or robbery.
Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea, who prosecuted the case, recommended a life sentence. She said in her sentencing memorandum that Bridges and York died in “one of the most horrifying manners imaginable.”
Defense attorney Jeffrey Toothaker of Ellsworth urged the judge to impose a 46-year sentence because De St. Croix did not know York was in the truck when he started the fire. The intended victim was Bridges, he said.
The defense team plans to appeal the jury’s verdict to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.