MACHIAS, Maine — In a last-minute plea, Charles Townsend admitted to a judge Tuesday that he murdered Wayne Morrill two years ago by setting Morrill’s home on fire.

Townsend, 34, was sentenced Tuesday to 32 years in prison for Morrill’s murder, and 30 years in prison for setting Morrill’s Robbinston home on fire on Oct. 7, 2020. The two sentences are concurrent with each other.

Townsend was accused by state prosecutors of depraved indifference when he set fire to Morrill’s home while Morrill was inside, and by not trying to help Morrill escape the blaze or by seeking help after the Ridge Road home caught fire. The fire was reported by a passerby after flames burned through an exterior wall of the home.

Morrill, who had difficulty walking from a prior injury, was found by firefighters slumped against a piano in the living room of the house, which had been in his family for several generations. He died from injuries he suffered while attempting to flee the house, according to prosecutors.

Townsend knew Morrill, who was 66 years old. On the day he set the fire, Townsend  socialized and drank with Morrill, according to Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea. But then the two men got into an argument when Townsend lit a paper bag on fire in the mudroom of Morrill’s house, Zainea told Justice Bruce Mallonee.

Townsend fled after the burning bag caught other items on fire in the mudroom and the flames began to spread.

“He got scared,” Zainea told the judge. “That’s why he left.”

Townsend first denied having anything to do with the fire when he was approached by police, but later admitted he had caused it, she said.

A niece of Morrill’s, Maya Baker, addressed the court, saying that her mother and uncle were too upset to be able to attend Tuesday’s plea hearing.

“Wayne Morrill was a funny, loving, caring soul,” Baker said. “Townsend took away my mother’s whole entire world. He has given us a life sentence of pain that will never go away.”

Townsend declined to address the court beyond what was required for his plea.

Townsend’s defense attorney, Jeff Davidson, said Townsend set fire to the bag in an impulsive fit of anger. 

“He really didn’t expect it to get out of control like it did,” Davidson said. “It was probably 20 to 30 minutes later when the first person came on the scene and saw the smoke.”

He said Townsend’s father, before he died, was good friends with Morrill. Later, Townsend and Morrill became best friends, spending time together every day.

“What was sort of an impulsive prank kind of thing just turned into a tragedy,” Davidson said. “It ruined two lives.”

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....