The trial of Thomas Bonfanti, a Northfield man accused of killing three people in a February 2020 shooting spree in Machias and Jonesboro, is expected to be moved out of Washington County.
Where the unscheduled trial might take place has not been decided, but Justice Bruce Mallonee said Friday that he expects to move the trial out of Washington County because of the likelihood that publicity about the case will make it difficult to seat an impartial jury in Machias, where two of the fatal shootings took place.
Bonfanti, 64, is charged with murder in the Feb. 3, 2020, shooting deaths of Jennifer Bryant Flynn, 49, of Machias; Samuel Powers, 33, of Jonesboro; and Shawn Currey, 57, of Machias, all of whom were shot at their homes. He also is charged with one count of aggravated attempted murder and one count of elevated aggravated assault in the shooting of Regina Hall Long, 49, who shared a home with Currey and also was shot the same morning. Long survived her injuries.
During a Friday afternoon court hearing, which was held via Zoom, Mallonee told attorneys involved in the case that he was leaning toward moving the trial to Bangor, though he said he would wait to decide the matter to give the attorneys time to develop responses either for or against the proposal. He told them he likely would make a decision next week.
“I think a change of venue is in order,” the judge said. He noted that the murder trial of Carine Reeves, a New York man convicted last fall in the Cherryfield murder of Sally Shaw, was held in Bangor without complications.
Bangor lawyer Jeff Silverstein, who is representing Bonfanti along with Ellsworth lawyer Jacob Ferm, told Mallonee that holding the trial in Piscataquis or Aroostook counties might be preferable, in order to increase the chances of finding impartial jurors. He said that even though the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor may be capable of hosting a trial with COVID-19 precautions in place, potential jurors in Penobscot County might be too familiar with media reports about the case, which could be prejudicial to his client.
“I believe my client would be worried because the Bangor Daily News emanates from Bangor,” Silverstein said, referring to the outlet’s extensive coverage of the shooting. “Mr. Bonfanti wants this trial.”
Leane Zainea, the lead prosecutor in the case, told Mallonee that the state attorney general’s office could prosecute the trial either in Piscataquis or Aroostook counties, and that it would not object to holding the trial in Bangor. She said the state would object to holding the trial in Augusta or any place further south, which would increase the cost of conducting the trial because of the travel and lodging expenses of transporting witnesses from Washington County.
“The state is fine with Bangor,” she told the judge.
Silverstein told Mallonee that he was concerned about other pending homicide trials in Bangor that have not yet taken place, and that moving Bonfanti’s trial to Bangor could slow down all three cases. Piscataquis County, he said, does not have as many backlogged cases as Penobscot County.
Mallonee said that due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, trial scheduling challenges continue to exist throughout the state, even though trials that have been put off are being scheduled again.
“Every single venue is short on court judicial marshals right now,” the judge said.