HOULTON, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has thrown out murder and robbery convictions against Marcus Asante, a Massachusetts man who was arrested in 2016 following a marijuana deal gone awry in which an Oakfield man was shot to death.
Asante, 24, of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, had driven to Maine in order to purchase $20,000 worth of marijuana from Douglas Morin Jr. of Oakfield, according to court documents. Asante, Morin, Morin’s cousin Tia Ludwick and one of Asante’s friends got into a vehicle and traveled down a secluded dirt road, followed by two of Asante’s other friends who had traveled with him to Maine.
Once the vehicle had stopped, Morin was shot nine times, killing him, and the marijuana was taken from the vehicle by Asante and Ludwick. State prosecutors had offered evidence that Asante and Ludwick had planned to rob Morin together and that Asante shot Morin nine times after Morin had pulled out a gun during the robbery attempt.
Asante testified that there was no intention of robbery and that Morin had pulled out a gun after the deal was called off due to there being an insufficient amount of marijuana. After hearing both arguments, the Aroostook County Superior Court jury ruled against Asante, returning a guilty verdict in November 2018 on murder and robbery charges. He was sentenced in February 2019 to 35 years in prison.
But Asante’s attorneys argued to the Law Court that the lower court had erred in its instructions to the jury that Asante could be convicted of robbery if he was armed with a dangerous weapon at the time of a theft.
The state supreme court ruled the attorneys’ arguments were correct in raising the possibility that Assante was found guilty solely on evidence of committing theft by taking the marijuana following Morin’s death and being armed with a dangerous weapon, but not on evidence that he had intentionally planned to inflict bodily harm against Morin.
The Law Court concluded that the Aroostook County Superior Court jury had reached “a verdict based on impermissible criteria”.
With the charges of robbery against Asante now called into question, the charge of murder against him was also thrown into doubt, as it removes the burden of proof needed by state prosecutors to find him guilty of murder rather than Asante’s claim to self-defense.
The state supreme court found the error in jury instructions had prevented “the fairness and integrity of the proceedings and may have affected the verdicts.”
With the verdicts thrown out, Asante will face a new trial in the lower court at a date to be determined.