BELFAST, Maine — More than a year ago, a teenager’s life was changed when a young man unloading a pistol early one morning at a Waldo home accidentally shot her in the jaw.
On Thursday, the girl watched as he pleaded no contest to a felony charge of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon.
Login Armstrong, 20, of Clifton, was sentenced during a hearing held via Zoom to two years in prison, with all but 120 days suspended. Superior Court Justice Robert Murray also sentenced him to two years of probation. Armstrong, who has already served time in jail, will have to pay restitution of $12,348. The money will reimburse the victim’s family for their out-of-pocket medical costs and also be used to pay into the Maine Victims’ Compensation Program. He is not allowed to have any kind of contact with the victim, was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and has had counseling recommended.
In a letter explaining the effect the shooting has had on her, Erica Staples, who is now 18, wrote that it was the most traumatic event of her life.
“From that early morning forward, I was in excruciating pain,” she wrote. “I have trouble sleeping and nightmares. I am always replaying it in my head, and constantly wondering why this happened.”
Armstrong, who has had no previous criminal convictions and who also shot himself in the hand that night, told the court he was sorry for what happened.
“It wasn’t my intention to hurt anybody,” he said.
Bill Entwisle, the Waldo County assistant district attorney, said that it took a lot of work to come to an agreement for a recommended sentence.
“It’s been something that’s gone back and forth. The victim and defendant are both young people,” he said. “The victim is young, with significant injuries. It’s a difficult situation that everybody finds themselves in.”
Armstrong’s attorney, Harris Mattson of Bangor, told the court that it was a terrible occurrence but not an intentional one. His client spent more than four months in jail and will be a felon for the rest of his life because of the conviction, the lawyer said.
“Clearly the impact on Ms. Staples from this event was tremendous, severe and ongoing,” he said. “On the other side of the equation, Mr. Armstrong didn’t intend to hurt anyone. What he believed he was doing was safe. That was clearly a mistake, but he didn’t believe he was putting anyone in danger.”
The victim’s mother, Christa Staples of Morrill, was also present for the Zoom hearing. Afterward, she said that she hopes other people can learn something from the shooting that injured her daughter.
“Don’t have guns out when there’s people around. It’s not a social thing to do,” she said. “It was an accident. It was not intentional. But it was very dumb and reckless. I don’t know if he’s ever taken a hunter safety course, but he should have. I took it. The first thing they teach you is always assume the weapon is loaded.”
Christa Staples said that the shooting could have been much worse for her daughter. If the bullet had struck her differently, it could have hit a nerve or a major artery, or her brain. It didn’t. Even so, Erica Staples has had a challenging recovery, both physically and emotionally.
“You hear on the news that little kids accidentally shoot their friends. These are older kids. They should have known better,” Christa Staples said. “Luckily, she’s surviving. She’s a strong girl.”