Eliot Cutler addresses the court during a hearing at the Hancock County Unified Criminal Court in Ellsworth on Thursday. Cutler pleaded guilty to four felony counts of possessing child pornography. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Eliot Cutler, who nearly was elected governor of Maine 13 years ago, pleaded guilty Thursday in Hancock County to four felony counts of possessing child pornography. He will serve nine months in a county jail.

In a crowded Ellsworth courtroom, Cutler entered a plea of guilty to four felony charges of possessing child porn. The sentence was jointly recommended by Hancock County District Attorney Robert Granger and by Cutler’s defense attorney, Walter McKee.

Justice Robert Murray accepted the overall recommended sentence of four years behind bars with all but nine months suspended. He also ordered Cutler to serve six years of probation upon his release, to register as a sex offender for life and to make a $5,000 donation to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Cutler, 76, kept his eyes down staring at the wooden table while Granger went through a long list of probation conditions that will prevent Cutler from possessing any pornography or accessing the internet by any device that is not connected to an internet monitoring service that documents his online activity. He also is not allowed to have contact with any minor children except with his grandchildren and their friends when another adult is present.

As Granger provided details of some of the images recovered by police, which depict children as young as four, Cutler continued to stare at the table, grimacing as Granger said how old the children were.

Eliot Cutler listens to the prosecution during a hearing at the Hancock County Unified Criminal Court in Ellsworth on Thursday. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Cutler apologized for his conduct in a five-minute statement he made to the court. 

“I want to apologize to all the victimized children and their families. That my behavior was the consequence of an addiction was no excuse,” Cutler said.

He said he knew he had a problem with a pornography addiction and that he could have reached out for help, but he did not.

“I am embarrassed, ashamed and deeply, deeply sorry,” Cutler said, his voice quavering as he stood at a podium in front of Murray. “I have no excuse or defense or justification for my crime.”

Cutler said he continues to apologize to his family and friends, and also offered an apology to people throughout Maine who supported him in the past, whether in his political or professional careers.

“I am profoundly sorry that I let you down,” he said. “I will never, ever relapse and engage in the behavior that brought me here today. This crime is not all of who I am.”

Cutler said that he hopes he will be able to “regain the trust of my family, friends and community.”

McKee told Murray that many defendants in similar child porn possession cases get sentences that require them to serve six months in jail. He said that, given Cutler’s age, his cooperation with investigators, and his lack of any prior criminal behavior, that nine months “is a massive sentence for someone like Eliot.”

Granger said outside the courthouse that a nine-month jail term is generally longer than what other defendants in Maine have received for similar convictions. He said Homeland Security took part in the initial search of Cutler’s home, but that federal prosecutors declined to pursue a case against Cutler.

He reiterated that the significant number of cases clogging Maine’s court system, and Cutler’s age, factored into his decision to offer a nine-month jail sentence.

“With a backlog of cases, it’s very unlikely this case would have been reached for at least three years. And Mr. Cutler, he’s [nearly] 77 years old,” Granger said “I’d rather get the convictions on four counts that we got today, and the sentence we got today rather than never reaching [a resolution in] this case.”

Murray told Cutler he hopes his expressed remorse is genuine.

“I am hopeful you are sincere today,” the judge said. “I am hopeful you have taken this to heart.”

Cutler’s appearance in court on Thursday was the first time he had been required to appear in public since his arrest, and the first time he made any public comment about his crime. As part of his plea, Cutler is expected to request a delay to the start of his sentence until 9 a.m. on June 1, when he will be expected to show up at the Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth.

Only sentences longer than nine months are served at Maine state prisons.

In a hallway of the courthouse, after the hearing was over, Cutler said he would have no more comment.

“Zero,” he said tersely to a reporter.

McKee also declined to comment after the hearing.

Eliot Cutler exits the Hancock County Unified Criminal Court alone after entering a plea of guilty to four felony charges of possessing child pornography. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Cutler, a Bangor native and highly successful lawyer who made millions of dollars by specializing in environmental law, twice ran as an independent for governor, in 2010 and 2014. He nearly won in 2010, coming within 10,000 votes of winner Paul LePage. Cutler ran again four years later, but came in third place behind LePage and Democrat Michael Michaud.

In November 2014, the same month he lost his second race, Cutler began downloading the child pornography, according to police. 

By December 2021, when the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children received a tip from an online file sharing service that someone using an email account bearing Cutler’s name was storing child pornography, he had downloaded more than 100,000 explicit pornographic images of children. Of those images, nearly 84,000 depicted children under age 12, with some of the children as young as 4 to 6 years old, according to Granger.

The tip was forwarded to police, and in March 2023, they executed a search warrant at Cutler’s home on Naskeag Point Road in Brooklin, which he and his wife had bought in 2019. When police arrived and started searching, Cutler told his wife that police were going to find child porn on some of his electronic devices. He was arrested two days later but freed on $50,000 cash bail.

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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....