The Criteria for Imposing Life Sentences for Maine

Yesterday Chad Gurney was sentenced in Cumberland County Superior Court. According to published reports he strangled his then girlfriend. Once she was dead he proceeded to have sex with her, decapitate her, and then set her body on fire.  The location of the fire was an apartment building with 15 other units. The Defendant elected to have a bench trial instead of a jury trial. The defense at trial was that the Defendant was not criminally responsible by reason of insanity. The court rejected this and found him guilty of murder and arson. The court sentenced him to 50 years on the murder conviction and to 25 years with all but 10 years suspended and four years of probation on the arson conviction.  The arson sentence will run consecutively to the murder sentence. This means the defendant will serve 60 years minus any good time he may earn before he is released. Upon his release he will be on probation for a period of four years. If he were to violate his probation he could be sent back to prison for an additional 21 years. A lot of the feedback on press reports has been why a life sentence could not be imposed based on the set of facts.

Maine law provides for a specific set of circumstances to be present before a life sentence or a de facto life sentence through a term of years may be imposed. The Maine Law Court, the Supreme Court of Maine, ruled in State v. Shortsleeves that a life sentence can only be imposed if one of the following seven circumstances is present: (1) premeditation; (2) multiple deaths; (3) murder committed by a person who had been previously convicted of homicide or other crime involving the use of deadly force; (4) murder accompanied by torture or sexual abuse or other extreme cruelty; (5) murder committed in a penal institution by an inmate of that institution; (6) murder of a law enforcement officer in the performance of their duties; and (7) murder of a hostage.  The Law Court specifically held that in the absence of one of the above-numerated circumstances a sentence of life imprisonment could not be imposed. Since the court found that none of the seven above-enumerated circumstances was present in the Gurney trial a life sentence could not be imposed.

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