AUGUSTA, Maine — Did a prosecutor’s use of the phrase “green-eyed monster” so prejudice a Kennebec County jury that a man serving a 50-year sentence for murder should be retried?
That is one of several questions the justices on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court grappled with Thursday when they heard oral arguments in the appeals of two men convicted in separate domestic homicide cases.
Justin Pillsbury, 42, of Augusta was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the Nov. 15, 2013 fatal stabbing of his girlfriend, Jillian Jones, 24 in the apartment they shared. The prosecution maintained he repeatedly stabbed Jones after he learned she’d been talking on the phone with another man. Pillsbury testified that he acted in self-defense.
Jesse Marquis, 41, of St. Francis was sentenced to life in prison for the slaying of Amy Theriault, 31, on May 31, 2014. Marquis stabbed, then shot the mother of two after she broke up with him.
Both men are serving their sentences at the Maine State Prison in Warren.
Pillsbury’s attorney, Caleb Gannon of Augusta, on Thursday argued that Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber’s reference to a “green-eyed monster” that was “uncaged” in his opening statement at the trial on March 14, 2016, prejudiced the jury and amounted to prosecutorial misconduct.
“On its face, that panders to any prejudice or bias jurors may have,” Ganon said. “It says to the jury: ‘This guy’s a monster. Lock him up.’”
Gannon argued that using the reference from William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello,” “could only serve to inflame the passion and bias of the jury” because the play is about an African man who kills his white wife, and Justin Pillsbury is an African-American who was charged with slaying a white woman.
The justices pointed out that it was Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy, who presided over the trial, not the defense counsel, who expressed concern about the prosecutor’s use of the phrase.
“It was clear that Mr. Macomber referred to jealousy, not the defendant,” Justice Ellen Gorman said. “He referred to the Shakespearian description of jealousy as a green-eyed monster.”
Macomber, who argued against the appeal Thursday, said that Murphy had ruled that his use of “green-eyed monster” was not racially motivated. The judge also found that he came up to the line of prosecutorial misconduct but did not cross it by using that phrase.
“This was a depraved indifference murder,” Macomber said. “My motivation had nothing to do with race. I was trying to say that the motive was jealousy.”
Macomber said that he did not “return to green-eyed monster theme” in his closing statement but instead focused on jealousy as the motive for the slaying.
In the other case, attorney Jeremy Pratt of Camden argued that Marquis should be retried, in part because the state failed to disclose the phone number from which text messages were sent to Marquis’ ex-girlfriend.
“The state was sloppy,” Pratt said. “No evidence was presented of what his number was.”
Assistant Attorney General Lara Nomani said that the messages were taken from Theriault’s phone from a number she had named “Jesse M.”
Justice Andrew Mead raised a question left unanswered: “Shouldn’t there be a higher standard for the state to prove the texts were connected with a real person, given that it could be spoofing?”
Spoofing is when a caller deliberately disguises his identity.
There is no timetable under which the justices must issue their decisions.