Bates rape case back in court

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AUBURN – A Sabattus man convicted of raping a Bates College student in a campus bathroom is expected to be resentenced this week because Maine’s highest court overruled the prison term handed down by a local judge.

Christian Averill was sentenced to 34 years in prison after his 2003 trial. The judge suspended 10 years, meaning Averill was to spend 24 years behind bars with time off for good behavior.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court last year overturned in a 4-3 decision the sentence imposed by Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice Thomas E. Delahanty II.

This time, a jury will decide whether the 25-year-old man’s crime falls into the category of “most violent and heinous” and whether prosecutors proved that “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If it does, Delahanty could impose the same sentence again. If not, the judge would only be able to sentence Averill up to 20 years.

Prosecutors from the District Attorney’s Office have recently amended the indictment against Averill to reflect what they believe is the heinous nature of the crime. In the past, the judge presiding over a case decided whether a crime should be described as heinous. Under a new law, a jury will decide that element, which prompted the indictment amendment.

According to police, Averill waited for the student in a bathroom at Pettengill Hall. She was taking a break while studying for exams. He put her in a headlock, covered her mouth and shoved her into a stall where he raped her.

Prosecutors relied on DNA evidence from semen found on the victim’s clothing. It matched a blood sample sitting for three years in the state’s crime lab from a juvenile sexual assault conviction.

Averill’s lawyer, George Hess, argued that the defendant’s actions did not rise to the level of “heinous.” Had his client beaten the girl or held her hostage for a prolonged period, he might have deserved a higher sentence, Hess said.

What remains murky is what the jury will use as a benchmark for a “heinous” crime. Will it compare this rape to all other crimes or just other rapes? Would additional evidence be allowed?

Averill’s sentence was one of two Maine cases revisited last year by the state’s high court following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that challenged state and federal sentencing laws.

In the other Maine case, the court tossed out the 28-year sentence of Sally Schofield, the former state child-protective caseworker convicted of killing her 5-year-old foster daughter.

Who: Christian Averill

What: Resentencing trial for Bates College rape conviction

When: Tuesday

Where: Androscoggin County Superior Court


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