Court upholds murder sentence

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PORTLAND (AP) – The state supreme court upheld a convicted murderer’s 40-year sentence in a gas station robbery, ruling that an earlier precedent set in reducing a woman’s manslaughter sentence does not apply in murder cases.

Shaun Libby, who was sentenced in 1999, was one of several convicts to bring appeals based on a ruling by the state supreme court that reduced Sally Schofield’s manslaughter sentence in the death of her 5-year-old foster child.

The decision in Libby’s case means more than a dozen other appeals of murder sentences based on the Schofield decision will likely be tossed.

“They decided that case with the understanding that it would be setting a precedent for all of the other cases that were waiting in the wings,” said Stuart Tisdale, Libby’s attorney, who plans to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Based on the unanimous ruling, issued Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber said he will be seeking to reject similar appeals. “I’m in the process of preparing a motion to dismiss 21 cases that are pending,” he said.

Schofield, who was convicted in 2002, was originally ordered to serve 20 years of a 28-year sentence in the asphyxiation death of Logan Marr, who was bound with duct tape and left alone in a basement. But the state supreme court overturned the sentence, saying Schofield could not be sentenced to more than 20 years without a jury’s finding that the crime was especially heinous. Now she’s serving 17 years in prison.

Lawyers arguing for Libby and three other defendants convicted of manslaughter, kidnapping and sexual assault say the Schofield case and a series of U.S. Supreme Court required a thorough re-evaluation of old sentences.

In its unanimous ruling, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court said the state’s murder sentencing guidelines used in the Libby case don’t invoke the kind of two-tiered sentencing system that was found to be at fault in the Schofield case.

“Maine law prescribes a single, finite range of sentences in murder cases, within which a court may impose an appropriate sentence without making any additional specific factual findings. In this way, the state’s current murder sentencing structure is fundamentally different than the two-tier sentencing structure deemed unconstitutional in Schofield,” Justice Andrew Mead wrote in the ruling.

Libby pleaded guilty to murdering Paul Batchelder during a botched robbery at a Gorham gas station early on April 4, 1998. Libby, who’s from Standish, shot Batchelder twice in the face and took $49 from him, police said.

Still pending are cases involving Everett Ashby, who’s serving 20 years for manslaughter, Steven Carmichael, who’s serving 35 years for his third sexual assault and Patrick Alexandre, who’s serving 40 years for manslaughter and kidnapping.

Those cases were argued on the same day as Libby’s.

Legal observers are awaiting the outcome of those other cases because since murder is treated differently than Class A crimes. Also, Thursday’s ruling didn’t touch upon the issue of whether the Schofield ruling should be applied retroactively.

AP-ES-07-06-07 1118EDT

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