FARMINGTON — A Norridgewock man who terrorized employees at the Verso Paper mill in Jay and held the manager and two other employees at gunpoint in March was sentenced Friday to five years in prison.
Justice Michaela Murphy sentenced Frances Smith III, 51, to 12 years, with all but five suspended, and six years of probation, to be served after his release.
The justice also banned Smith from going to Verso Paper in Jay or any other Verso property while he is on probation. Smith is forbidden to have contact with an extended list of victims.
Neither the shotgun nor the handgun Smith took to the mill was loaded until after Androscoggin Paper Mill Manager Marc Connor grabbed the shotgun from a desk in attempt to end the situation. Smith then pulled out a handgun, loaded the shotgun, put the handgun to the manager's head and pushed him into a chair, according to testimony the court would have heard if the case went to trial, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Robinson said. Smith held Connor hostage for more than six hours.
Smith's attorney, Walter McKee, said Smith was depressed about being terminated from his job and had gone to the mill that day to be killed.
Smith has been in jail since his arrest March 14.
He pleaded guilty in Franklin County Superior Court on Friday to felony charges of kidnapping, three counts of criminal threatening with a weapon and one count of terrorizing, as well as a misdemeanor charge of assault.
Robinson said that if the case had gone to trial, a human resources worker at the mill would have testified that she saw Smith in the hallway of the mill and he told her she was just the person he was looking for. He had been fired in the fall of 2011 after he sprayed a hose on a co-worker.
On March 14, he drove his car through the security gate at a high rate of speed and entered the mill, the prosecutor said. He forced the human resources employee to walk in front of him while he held a shotgun on her and nudged her along to the manager's office. She told Connor that Smith wanted to talk to him. Connor said he would talk to Smith later; Connor was in a meeting.
The employee would also testify that Smith told Connor, “You will talk to me now.”
Connor, the human resources employee and the man the manager was meeting with were in the room with Smith, who placed the shotgun on a desk in front of the manager, Robinson said.
Smith was upset because he had a blemish on his record after his termination and couldn't find a job.
When the manager grabbed the shotgun, the two other people escaped from the office and the mill was put into evacuation mode.
Robinson said Connor wrote in his impact statement that three times during the standoff he thought he was going to die and never see his family again.
Verso Paper attorney David Berry said the employees still are suffering from the incident and it has affected their sense of safety and well-being.
According to the state's sentencing memorandum, the disruption cost to Verso was about $190,000.
The sentencing agreement reached between the state and the defense on the kidnapping charge was capped at 12 years. Robinson argued for a seven-year sentence and four years of probation, and McKee argued for less.
McKee said that when Smith loaded the shotgun, he told Connor to kill him, but Connor said he was not that type of man and suggested they both just walk out of there.
Smith had no criminal history and a good work ethic and had held jobs with different companies for many years prior to working at the mill, McKee said.
“His job was his life,” McKee said. He spent time with his brothers and their families and worked at his blueberry farm.
Smith's father, Francis Smith, said his son had learned his lesson.
Albert Smith, Francis Smith III's younger brother by 10 years, struggled for composure as he spoke about the brother who took him and his friends to the movies.
“He's a really good person,” Albert Smith said. “He's got a real big heart. It's kind of unbelievable we're speaking of him in this way. It's not who he is or has been.”
A doctor's evaluation of the defendant found he was at low risk of repeating the conduct, McKee said.
Smith apologized to all who were affected by the incident. He said he was a different man, standing before the court, than the one who committed the shameful acts and he pledged they would never happen again.
Murphy's sentence included five years of a 12-year sentence and four years of probation on the kidnapping charge; five years each on the criminal threatening charges, to run concurrently with each other and with the kidnapping sentence; 364 days for assault, all suspended; and a $300 fine. She also sentenced him to serve five years on the terrorizing charge, all suspended, and to serve two additional years of probation. Probation conditions include getting a psychological evaluation and taking medicine as required. Smith also was ordered to pay $1,250 to the town of Jay.
FARMINGTON — Francis Smith III of Norridgewock pleaded guilty Friday to kidnapping, three counts of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, terrorizing and assault for taking a Jay paper mill manager hostage at gunpoint in March.
Smith was sentenced to 12 years, with all but five years suspended. He must also serve six years on probation.
Smith pleaded guilty to holding Verso Paper Androscoggin Mill manager Marc Connor hostage for more than nine hours inside the mill March 14. Police had said that Smith, who was fired from his mill job, entered Verso Paper armed with a shotgun and a pistol.