An Old Town man was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison with all but nine suspended after pleading guilty to manslaughter and arson for his role in the slaying of a Bangor man more than two years ago.
Joseph Johnson, 32, was charged with murder and arson in the beating death of Berton Conley, 59, on Nov. 1, 2019, at his Essex Street home. He had pleaded not guilty to those charges.
Jury selection in his trial was scheduled to begin Monday. Johnson planned to claim self-defense.
In addition to prison time, Superior Court Justice William Anderson sentenced Johnson to four years of probation Monday at the Penobscot Judicial Center. The judge also ordered Johnson to pay more than $4,000 in restitution to the Victims Compensation Fund for Conley’s funeral expenses.
Johnson did not address the judge at his sentencing. Members of his family attended the sentencing but did not speak on his behalf.
The sentence was the result of plea negotiations between the Maine Attorney General’s office, which prosecuted the case, and defense attorneys Jeffrey Silverstein and Zachary Smith, both of Bangor.
Anderson accepted the plea agreement and imposed the sentence.
Conley’s mother said that she misses her son but has forgiven Johnson.
“Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their child,” she told the judge. “I pray that while you are in prison, you gain the wisdom to change your life so that your children can be proud of you.”
Johnson has four children, Silverstein said.
Johnson and Cote Choneska, 41, of Veazie went to Conley’s home that night to buy drugs. Johnson beat Conley to death with his fists before setting the fire in an attempt to destroy a shirt with blood on it. Choneska left the house after Conley brandished a gun in an argument with Johnson and did not witness the victim’s death, Silverstein said.
Choneska also was charged with murder and arson as an accomplice. He pleaded guilty last month to hindering apprehension of Johnson. Choneska was sentenced to five years in prison with all but the time he had served — about 22 months — and was released.
Both men had been held without bail since their arrests on Dec. 4, 2019. That time will be applied to Johnson’s sentence.
Police were called to 258 Essex St. at about 7:50 a.m. on Nov. 1, 2019. Firefighters located a fire in the kitchen and found Conley unconscious inside the smoke-filled house.
He was brought to Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center where he was later pronounced dead. The medical examiner determined the manner of death was a homicide.
Johnson faced up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000 on the manslaughter and arson charges. If he had been convicted of murder, he faced between 25 years and life in prison.