High court rejects Thongsavanh appeal

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Brandon Thongsavanh, twice convicted in the 2002 stabbing death of a Bates College student, will not get a third chance to proclaim his innocence.

Nine months after appealing his conviction in the death of 22-year-old Morgan McDuffee, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court denied Thongsavanh’s latest request for a new trial.

Thongsavanh, 24, is serving a 58-year prison sentence for the March 2002 stabbing death of McDuffee. In the attack, which happened during a fight on Main Street in Lewiston, McDuffee was stabbed five times, including once in the heart, prosecutors said.

Since Thongsavanh’s original conviction, his lawyers have appealed on several grounds.

The jury that convicted him should have been given the option of finding him guilty of criminally negligent manslaughter, defense lawyers wrote in court papers filed in April.

His first conviction was overturned on appeal by the state’s high court. It agreed that references to the defendant’s T-shirt with a vulgar religious reference may have prejudiced the jury.

Thongsavanh was convicted at a second trial, and another appeal was filed.

This time local lawyers David Van Dyke and Scott Lynch wrote that their client should be granted a new trial because:

• state law requires the jury be given the option of considering him guilty of criminally negligent manslaughter, a lesser offense.

• details in his case support the manslaughter charge.

• state law defining depraved indifference murder is so vague that it’s unconstitutional.

They also wrote that their client should have gotten a shorter sentence because his crime lacked heinous elements – such as rape or torture.

In their decision Tuesday, the Supreme Court disagreed, stating: “Given the seriousness and breadth of the aggravating factors as compared to the mitigating factors, the court did not abuse its discretion in setting the maximum sentence at fifty-eight years.”

The decision also pointed to other factors, including “Thongsavanh’s refusal to accept responsibility or show any empathy or remorse, his perjury, his pattern of escalating behavior, his thrill-seeking through violence, his defiance, his willfully untreated substance abuse and anger problems, his violence at the Youth Center and in prison, and psychological evaluations that indicate a lack of social conscience.”

Four years after he was sent to prison, Thongsavanh was charged with stabbing another inmate in the chest and leg with a homemade knife at the prison in Warren. That victim survived his wounds.

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