AUBURN – The man convicted of raping a Bates College student in 2002 will spend less time in prison than initially sentenced.
An Androscoggin County Superior Court jury concluded Wednesday that the rape committed by Christian Averill, 25, of Sabattus was not among the “most heinous” crimes to happen to a person.
Averill’s lawyer grinned, clasped his client’s hands then clapped him on the back. The defendant sat stone-faced, as he had during most of his sentencing trial. After he stood and was handcuffed, he waved a hand to family members sitting in the back of the courtroom as he was led away by guards.
Averill was sentenced in 2003 by Justice Thomas Delahanty II to 34 years in prison with all but 24 years suspended. After Wednesday’s verdict, the judge can only resentence Averill up to 20 years.
One of the jurors said the panel was not given enough information to compare Averill’s crime with others. The man, who asked not to be identified, said the jury struggled with its decision. It was “very difficult,” he said.
After only a half day of testimony, it took this jury three hours to reach a decision. By contrast, it took a jury only 20 minutes to find Averill guilty of gross sexual assault after a weeklong trial three years ago.
Averill’s retrial this week was one of two cases sent back to lower courts by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. They wanted juries to decide whether the crimes were “one of the most heinous,” despite clear verdicts as to the guilt of the defendants. In those two cases, judges based the length of the defendants’ sentences on their interpretation of the wording in Maine law.
In its ruling last year, the high court said juries should decide the seriousness of the crimes. But it stopped short of offering a specific definition. For that reason, this jury wasn’t able to compare Averill’s crime to others in judging whether it rose to the level of being “one of the most heinous,” an anonymous juror said.
Twice during deliberation Wednesday, jurors sent a note to Justice Delahanty. The first note concerned the definition of the word “heinous.” The second time, they asked whether they should compare Averill’s rape only to other rapes or to other crimes in general.
Assistant District Attorney Deborah Cashman gave a detailed account of the rape during her closing arguments Wednesday. She told the jury Averill committed a “violent … calculated and premeditated” attack on the college freshman. “She complied with his demands seeing that anything else could result in her death.” She feared he held a weapon to her neck, Cashman said. The victim told Averill he was hurting her during the rape. She told him to stop.
“This was a heinous crime,” she said. She could not be reached for comment after the verdict.
George Hess, Averill’s lawyer, reminded the jury that the victim sustained no visible injuries during the rape. “He did not hit her or beat her,” he said.
Hess had been barred during the retrial from comparing Averill’s crime to other actual rape cases. “I felt I should have been able to,” he said after the verdict. “I did feel I was kind of hamstrung.”
He will be asking the judge for 15 years with five years suspended, meaning his client would serve no more than 10 years. “Would I like less? Certainly.”
He guessed Delahanty would impose close to the maximum of 20 years. A sentencing hearing is set for Friday.