Michael Callahan attends a hearing in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn in December 2017. Imprisoned for burning down his house and trying to burn down his estranged wife’s house nearly five years ago, he dropped his bid this week for a new trial or sentence. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
AUBURN — A former Minot man imprisoned for burning down his house and trying to burn down his estranged wife’s house nearly five years ago dropped his bid this week for a new trial or sentence.
Michael Callahan, 49, had also rammed his estranged wife’s minivan with his truck and tried to run down a law enforcement officer during a May 2013 rampage.
He pleaded guilty to some of the charges stemming from those incidents; a judge sentenced Callahan to: three sentences of 20 years with all but eight years suspended, plus four years of probation; 10 years, all suspended, plus four years of probation; and five years, all suspended, plus four years of probation.
The sentences were all consecutive to each other and resulted in the defendant being on probation for 12 years after he gets out of the Maine State Prison in Warren.
The first sentence was imposed on an arson charge for setting fire to Callahan’s ex-wife’s mobile home in Mechanic Falls. The second arson sentence was for burning down his family’s home in Minot on the same day. The final sentence was on an additional arson charge.
On six other felonies, including aggravated assault and reckless conduct, he was sentenced to five-year terms for each, all concurrent with the first arson charge. An attempted murder charge was dismissed by prosecutors.
After exhausting his direct appeals to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, Callahan had filed a petition for post-conviction review.
A post-conviction review is, for most convicted defendants, the last possibility for relief in their cases after trial or plea. Few reviews result in a new trial or other change to a defendant’s conviction or sentence. In order for that to happen, a judge must find that the defendant’s constitutional rights had been violated. If successful, the defendant could have his sentence vacated, set aside or corrected.
In his January 2016 amended petition, Callahan had claimed the ineffective assistance of trial counsel, James Howaniec. Callahan had said his attorney hadn’t adequately advised him about available legal defenses and the risks and benefits of going to trial, an allegation Howaniec denied at a December hearing.
Callahan also wrote in his petition that Howaniec hadn’t fully explored efforts to suppress evidence that might be used against him at trial and that his mental state had been “substantially compromised,” rendering him unable to freely decide on a plea.
Howaniec said at that December hearing that he had, in fact, proposed taking Callahan’s case to trial where he had planned to mount a defense that focused on Callahan’s compromised mental state due to his mental and physical illnesses, side effects from medications and the stress of a pending divorce, among other factors.
Howaniec, who has practiced criminal defense for more than 30 years, testified he had consulted with psychologists and psychiatrists in an effort to build a case at trial for possible “abnormal condition of mind” and “insanity” defenses. He and Callahan had “many, many” discussions about that, Howaniec said, including possible outcomes using those defenses. An MRI had shown lesions on the frontal lobe of Callahan’s brain, the part of the brain that controls cognitive function, Howaniec said.
On Feb. 12, Callahan wrote a letter to his post-conviction attorney, Erik Paulson, to “immediately withdraw my petition.” Paulson also represented Callahan in a civil lawsuit brought against him by his ex-wife, whose Mechanic Falls home he had attempted to burn in 2013.
“I am sick of all the lawsuits and just want to get along with my life,” Callahan wrote.
Paulson filed a motion with Androscoggin County Superior Court on Monday to withdraw Callahan’s petition. A judge signed an order granting his motion.
The post-conviction review case had been scheduled to continue with a hearing later this month.
On May 24, 2013, Callahan burned down his family’s former home in Minot, then tried to burn down his then-estranged wife’s mobile home in Mechanic Falls. In a church parking lot, he rammed the minivan she had been driving that day, then tried to run down a sheriff’s deputy, according to prosecutors.
Six months earlier, Callahan had been arguing with his teenage daughter at the family’s Minot home when his then-wife fled the home with their two children. Callahan created a police standoff for more than six hours when he fired off from his sizable arsenal nearly 100 rounds at police who had surrounded his home.