Jalique Keene appears for sentencing at the Hancock County Superior Court in Ellsworth, Maine, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, with his attorney Jeffrey Toothaker. Keene was convicted of raping and killing a former high school classmate in Maine in 2018 was sentenced to 58 years in prison. Credit: Gabor Degre / The Bangor Daily News via AP

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.

A Bar Harbor man serving a 58-year prison sentence for raping and murdering a friend more than two years ago is asking Maine’s highest court to overturn his convictions and grant him a new trial.

Jalique Keene, 23, was found guilty in May 2019 following a jury trial in the sexual assault and strangulation death of Mikaela Conley, 19, on the grounds of a Bar Harbor elementary school on June 1, 2018.

Conley’s battered body was found June 2, 2018, in a thicket of vegetation next to the intersection of Route 3 and West Street, at the base of a hillside adjacent to the school grounds.

Keene’s appellate attorney, Lawrence Winger of Portland, claims that the trial should have been moved out of Hancock County due to pretrial publicity. He also argues that there was not enough evidence to convict Keene of gross sexual assault and murder and that his sentence is far longer than the 34-year average in murder cases.

The Maine attorney general’s office, which prosecutes homicide cases in Maine, said that because no formal motion to move the trial was made, that issue can’t be appealed. It also argues that there was plenty of evidence to convict Keene, including a school security video of him carrying Conley’s apparently lifeless body into the woods where her body was found buried in leaves. The state also said the sentence is not excessive considering the brutality of the sexual assault and slaying.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in the case remotely on Wednesday.

Justices were skeptical of Winger’s arguments.

“There is a video of him dragging her lifeless body through the grounds of the school alone. How could a jury not rationally infer from that that he was hiding her body after he had assaulted and killed her?” Justice Ellen Gorman asked.

“Not beyond a reasonable doubt they couldn’t,” Lawrence replied, referring to the standard used in determining guilt in criminal cases.

Acting Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Andrew Mead asked Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber, who represents the state in the appeal, if the case should not have been moved to another county.

“Even without a record [of that request], this had to have been a cause celebre in this insular community,” he said. “Shouldn’t it have been moved?”

“The real test of whether there’s been too much pretrial publicity is — can you seat a jury,” Macomber said. “And they did here.”

Keene took the stand in his own defense and denied raping and killing Conley. He testified that they had consensual sex and that he did not recall moving her body.

Conley and Keene attended Mount Desert Island High School together, with Keene graduating in 2015, when Conley was a sophomore.

Keene is incarcerated at the Maine State Prison in Warren, according to the Maine Department of Corrections. His earliest release date is June 4, 2068, when he will be 71 years old.

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