ROCKLAND, Maine ― The woman who bludgeoned an 83-year-old Owls Head woman to death last year with a shovel will spend 38 years in prison.
Sarah Richards, 38, of South Thomaston was sentenced in Knox County Courthouse Wednesday morning.
State prosecutors asked for a 50-year sentence for what they said was “an extreme act of elder abuse.” However, Richards’ attorney, Jeremy Pratt, argued for a lesser sentence of 30 years given Richards’ long history of mental illness and substance use disorder.
Justice Bruce Mallonee ultimately imposed a 38-year prison sentence after weighing the factors of what he described as a “savage” attack on a “helpless woman” by a person with a “distorted quality of thinking.”
Richards pleaded guilty to charges of murder and theft in April in connection to the death of 83-year-old Helen Carver in February 2019. She will serve a five-year sentence for the theft conviction concurrently with the 38-year sentence.
During the winter of 2019, Carver hired Richards to shovel snow at her Owls Head home.
On Feb. 14, 2019, one week before her death, Carver told the Knox County Sheriff’s Office that she believed Richards had stolen her debit card, according to a police affidavit. Police were scheduled to interview Richards about the theft on Feb. 22.
But Carver was found dead in her home on Feb. 21 by one of her sons. A medical examiner determined she was strangled and died from blunt force trauma to the head and upper body.
After changing her story multiple times, Richards admitted to police that she killed Carver with a tool after the elderly woman confronted her about the missing card. In court on Wednesday, prosecutors said that a snow shovel was the tool Richards used to kill Carver.
Carver, who lived alone at her home on South Shore Drive, was physically handicapped and required a walker and other supports to get around. Carver was not in a position to defend herself or fight back, Assistant Attorney General Robert Ellis Jr. said.
“She was basically beaten to death, an 83-year-old lady, in her own home,” Ellis said, adding that Richards’ attack demonstrated “extreme savagery and cruelty.”
One of Carver’s sons found his mother dead in a pool of her own blood, which is something Ellis said the man will never unsee. The son, Robert Carver, submitted a victim impact statement to Mallonee prior to sentencing.
“By bringing the shovel into the house and using it to beat my mother, I can’t think she was able to put up much of a fight,” another of Carver’s sons, Glenn Carver, told the courtroom Wednesday through a video feed from his home in Kentucky.
“My mom’s death has impacted my entire life, just knowing the violent way she left this life,” he said.
Neither state prosecutors nor the defense knew what Richards’ intentions were when she went to Carver’s home on Feb. 21, 2019.
Richards herself told the courtroom Wednesday that she doesn’t fully remember committing the crime against Carver.
She expressed her “deepest and sincerest apologies” to Carver’s family as well as to her own family. Richards is a mother of four children and recently became a grandmother, she said. One of her children was with her the day that she killed Carver, according to Mallonee.
While Richards’ mental health diagnosis is unclear, according to Pratt, she has described her mental state as “radio static,” with voices becoming louder and softer at any given time.
Richards told the courtroom that she plans to be a “model inmate” while incarcerated. She has completed her high school diploma since being held at the Knox County Jail and has begun to take college classes.
“I am not my crimes,” Richards said. “This will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
In addition to her prison sentence, Richards also was ordered to pay $7,246 in restitution to cover the cost of Carver’s funeral, the cost of having the house cleaned after the murder and for the more than $1,000 she spent using Carver’s stolen debit card.