The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday will consider the appeals of three men convicted of murder — F “ Frank” Daly of Bangor, Bruce Akers of Limington and Dustan Bentley of Old Orchard Beach.
All three men are incarcerated at the Maine State Prison in Warren.
Daly and Akers are seeking new trials. Bentley is asking to be resentenced.
Daly, 33, is serving a 42-year sentence for the Jan. 7, 2018, shooting death of 51-year-old Israel Lewis. Witnesses at Daly’s trial testified that he and Lewis knew each other and had had “a beef” but witnesses told jurors they thought it had been settled.
He is arguing in the appeal that Superior Court Justice Ann Murray illegally excluded evidence of an alternative suspect, erroneously told jurors that they could find the defendant guilty by a preponderance of the evidence rather than beyond reasonable doubt and inadequately explained her reasons for sentencing Daly.
The Maine attorney general’s office countered in its brief that “there is no state or federal constitutional right to present speculative or conjectural evidence to a jury merely because it is proffered by the defense. Daly’s defense attorney at trial also did not establish an alternative suspect’s reasonable connection to the murder. The prosecutors also argued that Murray properly instructed the jury on a guilty finding and followed sentencing procedures in a murder case.
Daly also is appealing Murray’s denial of his motion for a new trial based on statements a juror allegedly made four months after Daly’s sentencing that indicated that at least three jurors believed the murder may have been committed by someone other than the defendant. They voted for a guilty verdict because Daly’s trial attorney did not argue an alternative-suspect theory.
The attorney general’s office argued that Murray properly decided that the jurors’ concerns about a possible alternative suspect did not rise to the level of new evidence that would have allowed the judge to order a new trial.
Daly maintains his innocence.
Akers, 62, was sentenced in November to 38 years in prison for using a machete to nearly decapitate his 55-year-old neighbor, Douglas Flint, on June 9, 2016, according to court documents. Akers hid his neighbor’s body under a pile of rotting deer carcasses.
The men had been engaged in an ongoing dispute about property boundaries, according to court documents. The two worked together on a scrap metal job on the day of the killing, as they sometimes did. Akers later called police accusing Flint of stealing a six-pack of alcohol.
Later that day, Akers and Flint had a confrontation, during which Akers attacked Flint with a machete, cutting him 13 to 16 times before hiding his body elsewhere on his property, Assistant Attorney General Robert “Bud” Ellis told jurors at Akers’ trial in January 2020. When Flint’s family members came around looking for him, Akers said he hadn’t seen Flint since the previous morning.
Akers’ attorney argued in his appellate brief that Superior Court Justice Wayne Douglas should have suppressed Akers’ statements to police because they were not voluntary. The lawyer also wants the judge to reopen the suppression hearing because prosecutors failed to disclose an email that could have undermined the credibility of a witness at the original suppression hearing.
The attorney general’s office argued in its brief that the judge properly refused to suppress Akers’ statements and found that there was no need to reopen the suppression hearing because the email would not have changed the judge’s mind about the credibility of the witness.
Bentley, 32, is appealing his 40-year sentence but not his conviction. He pleaded guilty in February 2020 to murdering his roommate, 65-year-old William Popplewell, in March 2019. An autopsy found Popplewell died from blunt force trauma, multiple sharp force injuries and ligature strangulation.
In exchange for Bentley’s plea, the attorney general’s office agreed that it would recommend a sentence that was not longer than 40 years.
Bentley claims in the appeal that Douglas failed to individualize his sentence and based it on other murder cases that weren’t comparable to Bentley’s.
The attorney general’s office argues that Douglas’ imposition of a 40-year sentence took into account Bentley’s acceptance of responsibility by pleading guilty. The prosecutor also said in his brief that sentencing courts are permitted, but not required, to consider comparable cases.
There is no timetable under which the justices must issue a decision.