High court dismisses appeal of Lewiston man in baby's death

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PORTLAND — The state’s high court has dismissed a Lewiston man’s claim that he was denied his constitutional rights when, he said, he felt he was forced to admit to the prosecutor’s version of events when pleading guilty to a manslaughter charge stemming from the death of his infant son.

Danny Adams, 27, pleaded guilty in February 2017 to a manslaughter charge after having been initially charged with murder. His open plea went to the trial judge because the defense prosecutors had been unable to reach agreement on sentencing.

Adams was later sentenced by an Androscoggin County Superior Court judge to spend 15 years of a 20-year sentence in prison, followed by six years of probation.

Fourteen-week-old Zade Adams was pronounced dead on the morning of Dec. 14, 2014, at the 77 Rideout Ave. apartment where Danny Adams and Zade’s mother lived.

The infant was unresponsive when first responders arrived at the scene. Adams had forced the baby’s pacifier into his mouth, then put the child on his stomach in his crib and held his head down so he couldn’t spit out the pacifier, according to investigators.

Adams appealed his conviction to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, arguing that his plea was involuntary because he had been coerced, in violation of his constitutional rights against self-incrimination, to accept the truth of all of the facts recited by prosecutors during his plea hearing.

Writing for the high court, Chief Justice Leigh Saufley said that at Adams’ plea hearing, he “explicitly waived his right to remain silent.” The trial judge “admonished him to ‘listen carefully,’ (as prosecutors) recited the evidence that (they) expected to present at trial, which included Adams’ statements to police officers that numerous bruises on the child’s forehead and around his mouth likely resulted from (Adams) forcefully putting the baby’s pacifier in his mouth two or three times, holding it there by putting the palm of his hand on the pacifier and spreading his fingers across the child’s face, and then putting the child face down in his crib with the pacifier inserted and holding him down against the mattress.”

Adams had told the trial judge that the state’s version of events was consistent with evidence in the case that had been shared with him, Saufley wrote.

Asked by the trial judge whether he wanted to correct anything the prosecutor had said, Adams answered, “No.”

“The court found that the plea was made voluntarily and accepted it,” Saufley wrote.

For his sentencing hearing, Adams’ attorneys prepared a brief that explained the bruising on Zade’s face as the result of his father’s efforts to resuscitate the baby. That differed “significantly” from the prosecutor’s version, Saufley wrote. Prosecutors balked at the discrepancy. Adams’ attorneys conferred with their client, then assured the trial judge that Adams was taking responsibility for his son’s death.

At the sentencing hearing that followed, Adams told the judge, “I did do it. I’m not denying any of that. I take full responsibility for what I did. Everything I did that night and the night before was horrible.”

The trial judge asked the defendant: “Mr. Adams, having heard again the evidence the state would present if this matter were to go to trial, is there anything that you would like to correct?”

Adams answered: “No, ma’am.”

Asked whether he had made the decision to plead guilty voluntarily, Adams said he had, Saufley wrote.

Because the Supreme Court couldn’t find anything the trial court had done that was improper during Adams’ guilty plea and sentencing, the high court dismissed his appeal. Issues of “involuntariness of the plea, lack of knowledgeability on the part of the defendant regarding the consequences of his plea, ineffective assistance of counsel, misrepresentation, coercion or duress in securing the plea, the insanity of the pleader,” must be brought by Adams in a petition for post-conviction review, Saufley wrote.

“In this case, Adams pleaded guilty unconditionally, did not move to withdraw his plea, and does not contend that the court lacked jurisdiction or that it imposed an unconstitutional sentence,” she wrote. “Accordingly, his direct appeal must be dismissed.”

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Danny Adams in Androscoggin County Superior Court where he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in his infant son’s death. (File photo)

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