Sentence May Decide Next Steps in Boating Case
October 01, 2008 -
PORTLAND -- Prosecutors considering whether to retry Robert LaPointe on manslaughter charges will likely wait to see what sentence he gets in November for boating drunk, in a crash that killed two people.
LaPointe, 39, was found guilty Wednesday of two counts of aggravated drunk driving in connection with the boating deaths in Harrison last year of Terry Raye Trott and Suzanne Groetzinger. A mistrial was declared on two more serious charges of manslaughter after the jury deadlocked on those and a charge of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon.
Cumberland County Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Norbert, who assisted District Attorney Stephanie Anderson in the case, said Thursday that prosecutors have not determined whether to seek a new trial on the manslaughter charges. They will probably wait for the sentencing Nov. 12 and to analyze questionnaires sent to jurors.
"If we get a sentence we think is the right sentence, certainly that in my view is a successful outcome," Norbert said. Sentences for manslaughter in a drunk driving death and for aggravated drunk driving that leads to a death are often similar. When someone is convicted of both, the sentences are often served simultaneously, she said.
"What we get out of (a manslaughter conviction) would be the conviction itself. We may not get more time," she said.
But, she added, "You want people held accountable for their actions and if their conduct met the statute for that type of crime, then it is our belief they should receive that conviction. Certainly it matters to the family involved."
Prosecutors will also have to consider whether the 8-4 vote, as described by one juror, is an accurate reflection of how the community views LaPointe's behavior.
Defense lawyers unconnected to the case said they expect LaPointe to receive between one and three years in prison for the aggravated drunk driving conviction.
He has no criminal record, but the state will ask the judge to consider his driving history, which over a period of 22 years includes 22 speeding convictions, four convictions for failing to stop for a police officer and two license revocations for being a habitual motor vehicle offender, according to Massachusetts state records.
"These are not crimes, but the court could say if they show a history of operating a vehicle way too fast, it might be considered a disregard for the safety of others," said James Burke of the University of Maine School of Law.
LaPointe was driving a 32-foot Sunsation Dominator, equipped with twin 425-horsepower engines, around 9 p.m. on Aug. 11, 2007, on Long Lake. His boat ran over a 14-foot motorboat operated by Trott, of Harrison. Trott, 55, and Groetzinger, 44, were killed.
Neale Duffett, a local lawyer who is a member of LaPointe's legal team, said he will research cases similar to LaPointe's so he can recommend a sentence to Superior Court Justice Robert Crowley.
"There are not very many aggravated OUI boat cases. You would probably look at motor vehicle cases" that resulted in death, he said. "My sense is that the sentence can go up to two years or less ... They could range from a county jail sentence to a fairly short sentence at the Department of Corrections."
In a case from 2001 in Gorham, Lynda Hinds was charged with manslaughter, aggravated drunk driving, aggravated assault and reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon after she drove head-on into an oncoming car, killing one of the other car's occupants.
A Cumberland County jury convicted her on all but the manslaughter charge. She was sentenced to spend a year and a half in prison with 3 1/2 years suspended, which could be imposed if she got in trouble again during four years of probation. Prosecutors opted not to retry the manslaughter case.
Randall Bates, a former Cumberland County prosecutor who is now a defense lawyer, said prosecutors must evaluate the strength of their case and the sentence they are likely to get. They also will consider victims' families. "Do you want to put the victim's family through that again? Those are all things Stephanie is going to have to consider," Bates said.
He expects LaPointe will receive a split sentence, with a substantial portion of it suspended but which could get him sent back to prison if he commits new crimes. But he most likely will be sent to prison for more than a year, Bates said.
LaPointe also is likely to lose his Massachusetts driver's license, said a spokeswoman for that state's motor vehicle department. The state has a law that allows it to revoke a driver's license for boating while intoxicated, she said.
When deciding on a sentence, Crowley will look at similar cases, consider factors that call for a more or less severe sentence and determine whether the defendant would benefit from suspending a portion of the sentence in favor of probation.
The judge also can consider trial testimony. That could include LaPointe's own testimony and whether he was honest on the stand given what the jurors concluded and whether he was remorseful and takes responsibility for his actions.
The judge also will evaluate what type of message the sentence will send to the public, a statement about what penalty others can expect if they engage in similar conduct, said Burke, the law school professor.
By DAVID HENCH, Staff Writer, Portland Press Herald, September 26, 2008
Lakes: Long Lake
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