ALFRED — A convicted killer’s life sentence for the murder of his grandmother is too severe, his attorney said Tuesday, arguing that the crime wasn’t “the worst of the worst.”
Derek Poulin, 29, is asking the court to reduce his life sentence for murder and a concurrent 30-year sentence for arson.
When he was 23, Poulin murdered his 61-year-old grandmother, Patricia Noel, by beating her with a golf club and stabbing her about 70 times before setting fire to the Old Orchard Beach home she shared with Poulin and his father.
An attempt to appeal the sentence in 2016 failed in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Poulin, through his attorney Chris Nielsen, has asked the York County Superior Court to reconsider his sentence. Nielsen said the life sentence Poulin received was “cruel and unusual punishment,” as the court failed to consider Poulin’s young age and his mental health, as well as his lack of any prior criminal history.
Poulin, with a shaved head and clad in an orange prison uniform, was in court Tuesday morning for an oral hearing with Justice John O’Neil, the judge who gave him a life sentence in 2015.
The punishment for murder in Maine was 25 years to life, Nielsen said. He argued that a life sentence “should be reserved for the worst of the worst,” and while Poulin’s crime was egregious, it wasn’t the “worst of the worst.”
Nielsen said that Poulin was only 23 at the time of the crime, and argued that the brain is still developing at that age.
“I think the court may have heard that today’s 28 is yesterday’s 18,” Nielsen said.
If Poulin was given a lesser sentence, the attorney said, he could leave prison and show that he had matured and become a better person.
If the current sentence stands, “he will die in prison, your honor, he will never have that opportunity,” Nielsen said.
Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber pointed out the unfairness of Noel’s fate at the hands of Poulin as a counterpoint to Nielsen’s argument that Poulin’s sentence is unfair. If Poulin committed his crime in New Hampshire, he would have likely received the death penalty, Macomber said.
“He was 23 at the time, he wasn’t 15, he wasn’t a juvenile,” said Macomber. “He was an adult in the eyes of the law.”
Macomber noted that when Poulin tried to appeal the case in 2016, Poulin failed to claim the sentence was “cruel and unusual,” and therefore Poulin’s request should be dismissed.
When he gave Poulin a life sentence in 2015, it was a very difficult decision that he struggled with, O’Neil said. He said that while Poulin was young and had no criminal record, the incident was brutal. The factor that weighed heavily in his decision was Poulin’s “absence of remorse,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil will make a decision on Poulin’s request at a later date.
Poulin’s aunt and Noel’s daughter, Darcy Daniels, were among family members at Tuesday’s hearing. Daniels said it was a very emotional experience listening to Nielsen’s attorney say that the crime wasn’t “the worst of the worst.” Daniels said she believes her nephew deserved the life sentence.
Derek Poulin is escorted into a courtroom at York County Superior Court in Alfred on Tuesday. He is seeking to have his life sentence reduced. (Liz Gotthelf/Journal Tribune)