LEWISTON — Billie James Coburn, one of three men charged with vandalizing Riverside Cemetery last month, has confessed.
He did it, not on the advice of an attorney and not as part of some tricky legal maneuver. The 18-year-old Lewiston man said he is fessing up because he is sorry.
“I really have no reason to deny it,” he said Wednesday. “I want to say I’m sorry and face the consequences.”
Coburn and two others were charged last week with aggravated criminal mischief in the overnight spree that involved dozens of stones being overturned at the Lewiston cemetery. Each was jailed briefly, though they are now free on bail.
On Wednesday afternoon, Coburn walked to the Sun Journal on Park Street to deliver a handwritten letter. The letter is a full page in which he describes his remorse and offers apologies to several individuals and groups, including the community as a whole, the Riverside groundskeeper, the families of the dead at the cemetery, volunteers who helped clean up and even the police detective who tracked him down.
“My actions were disrespectful, uncalled for and not me,” he wrote. “What I did was wrong and I regret every second of it.”
Coburn said he was compelled to write the letter because he has been plagued by guilt since the vandalism spree. The destruction, he said, shocked not only the community but his own social circle, as well.
“My friends and my family, there were shocked,” he said. “It was the first time I got drunk in a while and I guess I couldn’t control myself. I was intoxicated, but that’s no excuse.”
When asked, Coburn stressed that overturning headstones and monuments was not an expression of rage toward anybody associated with the cemetery. It was a mindless rampage, he said.
Coburn was born in Lewiston and has lived here his entire life, he said. He went to Lewiston schools and his family is here. In his letter, he acknowledges Riverside as among the oldest and most beloved cemeteries in the area. He and his friends typically enjoyed the cemetery, he said, like everyone else.
“We’d just go there to hang out,” he said. “We never thought of doing anything like this.”
Also charged are Shane Haskell, 20, and Jesse Macia, 18, also of Lewiston. Police say their investigation into the vandalism is ongoing. Chief Michael Bussiere declined to respond to Coburn’s remarks Wednesday while the investigation continues.
The sight of strewn monuments and toppled stones at the cemetery horrified the community and caused many to rally around Riverside. Ultimately, a group of hockey players from the Lewiston Maineiacs got together with other volunteers to right the headstones.
Coburn’s apology was not likely to appease all of those affected by the vandalism.
Marilyn Burgess, a 72-year-old Leeds woman who serves as the legislative liaison for the Maine Old Cemetery Association, was asked Wednesday if Coburn’s apology changed how she felt about what was done.
“No,” she said. Because apology or not, the suspects caused a great deal of damage and tried to evade capture as long as they could.
“We have too much of this kind of vandalism and very few are caught,” Burgess said. “I suspect these guys have a lot of anger. And I’m not convinced that there aren’t more people involved.”
The motivation for the destruction, Coburn said, is inexplicable, lost in the haze of alcohol. He said he has no idea how publicly apologizing and admitting guilt will affect his case. He hasn’t even hired a lawyer yet.
“I’m ready for the consequences of my actions,” he wrote, “and I hope many will forgive me for what I’ve done.”