Carine Reeves enters the courtroom at the Penobscot Judicial Center on Sept. 24, 2020. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

The New York man serving a 48-year sentence for shooting a woman in the back of the head more than four years ago in Cherryfield is asking that his indictment be dismissed because his trial was not held within 120 days following his return to Maine from New York.

Carine Reeves, 41, also claims that his lawyers, prosecutors and the judge should not have held sidebar conversations in a courthouse hallway and that he should have been allowed to represent himself during his trial after his relationship with his attorneys broke down.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral arguments in Reeves’ appeal on Dec. 9 at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland. It is the first time the court will rule on a question involving pandemic-era restrictions on jury trials.

Reeves, who has a violent criminal history, was in Maine selling drugs when he killed Sally Shaw, 55, of New Gloucester in July 2017. Shaw’s body was found by a passing motorist on Route 193.

A jury found him guilty of murder on Oct. 5, 2020, after five days of testimony at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor. It was the first jury trial in a homicide case held after the pandemic dramatically curtailed court proceedings.

Prior to his trial, Reeves, a Black man, objected to wearing a mask before the jury and claimed it would be prejudicial. He did not appeal the judge’s order that everyone in the courtroom wear masks.

Reeves was returned to Maine on Jan. 21, 2020, from New York, where he had been tried on unrelated charges. The Interstate Agreement on Detainers required that he be tried within 120 days, according to his appeal. His trial was set for May 2020 but by then, the court system was not conducting jury trials due to the pandemic.

Attorney Rory McNamara of York, who is handling Reeves’ appeal, argued that Superior Court Justice Harold Stewart II did not have the legal authority to delay Reeves’ trial six months when he had asked that it be held in May.

But Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber, who is handling the appeal for the state, argued that Reeves’ trial still happened within that 120-day timeframe when accounting for the time the court system was holding no jury trials due to pandemic shutdowns.

“When this period is excluded from the deadline, Reeves’s trial commenced less than 120 days after he was brought back to Maine,” Macomber said.

The Louisiana judiciary handled cases awaiting trial in a similar manner in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the prosecutor said.

Even if Stewart had dismissed the indictment, the law allows the case to be presented to a grand jury at a later date.

Sidebar conversations took place in a hallway because of social distancing requirements in place last fall. Those discussions usually take place to the side of the judge’s bench in whispered tones with participants’ heads almost touching. White noise often is played to prevent jurors from hearing the discussions.

It was one of a number of changes made because of coronavirus requirements.

Reeves’ trial was conducted in the largest courtroom on the second floor of the Bangor courthouse. The jury sat in the gallery and lawyers faced them instead of the judge.

A smaller courtroom was used as the jury room. The public, reporters and family and friends of the victim watched a live video feed of the trial from a conference room.

McNamara argued that the 15 hallway sidebar conversations effectively made the trial so it wasn’t a public proceeding. Reeves was entitled to a public proceeding under the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment.

Macomber called the circumstances of the pandemic under which Reeves’ trial occurred “extraordinary.” Sidebar conferences had to happen in the hallway to comply with the judiciary’s social distancing requirements, he argued in his briefs submitted to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

“[That] did not violate Reeves’s right to a public trial, particularly where he was represented by two defense counsel during the sidebar conferences and where there was a verbatim record of what transpired during the conferences,” Macomber said.

About halfway through the trial, Reeves said that he wanted to fire lead attorney Stephen Smith of Augusta. Reeves told the judge that he was fine questioning witnesses himself.

Stewart denied that request and refused to appoint a new defense team until after Reeves’ sentencing. That decision violated Reeves’ right to self-representation under the Maine Constitution, McNamara argued.

Macomber disagreed and maintained that Stewart rightly decided that letting Reeves represent himself would have a “disruptive effect” on the trial.

The judge also properly expressed “grave concerns” about Reeves’ ability to cross-examine witnesses and address objections to the state’s scientific witness, who had not yet testified.

There is no timetable under which the justices must issue a decision.