AUGUSTA — Sally Ann Earl-Costello, 62, admits she shot her husband in the back with a 12-gauge shotgun at their Readfield home and that it was “horrible, unthinkable, terrible, criminal.”
She apologized Thursday during her sentencing hearing at the Capital Judicial Center, saying she still loves her husband of 38 years.
“With these hands that I devoted to a life of healing, I caused unspeakable harm,” said Earl-Costello, a former veterinarian. “And to say that I’m deeply remorseful doesn’t even begin to scratch the pain within me.”
Hugh Costello, 82, who walked with a cane even before the shooting, spoke at his wife’s hearing as well, saying he has forgiven her, still loves her and wants contact with her.
But she is going to prison. Justice Michaela Murphy sentenced Earl-Costello on Thursday to five years with 15 additional years suspended, and four years of probation.
Her husband said his wife was suffering from alcoholism and depression and was very drunk in May 2017 when she pulled the trigger. He does not recall getting shot.
HOPING TO STAY IN CONTACT
After the court hearing, he lamented the length of Earl-Costello’s sentence partly because of his own age. “If we wait five years, I will be 87 years old when she gets out, and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to live that long,” Hugh Costello said.
He had asked that his wife serve her sentence in a mental hospital, something the judge told him was not possible in this case. “I miss having my wife being nearby and able to talk with me,” he said.
The couple’s daughter submitted a written statement but did not speak during the hearing.
Earl-Costello turned to her husband in court and said, “By the grace of God my husband is alive to hear these words, and I am so thankful for that.”
She said she still doesn’t fully recall what happened. “I was in a state of desolation, despair (that) I can’t even begin to describe,” she said. “I was hopeless, helpless.”
She said she would do everything possible to get better.
She too asked Murphy to lift the ban on contact between her and her husband. “I beg you, please, to give me a chance, to give Hugh and I a chance,” she said.
Murphy agreed to allow written contact between the couple, but warned them that the prison administration could decide against it.
ARGUMENT, SHOT IN THE BACK
Costello called 911 on May 17, 2017, to report the shooting and said she thought her husband might be dead.
She later told police the couple had argued, and he was sitting on the front porch steps of their Sturtevant Hill Road home when she fired the shotgun – loaded with bird shot – at his back after she opened the door.
She pleaded guilty April 3 to a charge of elevated aggravated assault, which carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison. The judge explained Thursday that because a firearm was used in the offense, state law requires a mandatory four-year minimum sentence.
The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Frayla Tarpinian, recommended a sentence of 18 years, with an initial 10 years to be served immediately, followed by six years of probation.
“The conduct itself is just very heinous,” she said. “She stepped out on that porch and shot him.”
Tarpinian said Costello still has birdshot inside him from being hit at point-blank range.
Tarpinian said there was still a question about why Earl-Costello committed the offense. “She does not have a major mental illness,” Tarpinian said, adding that Earl-Costello had been drinking heavily that day and was suffering from insomnia. Earl-Costello underwent psychological evaluations.
PRIOR ASSAULT ON HUSBAND
At the time of the shooting, Earl-Costello had been under a deferred disposition after she pleaded guilty to domestic violence assault that occurred Jan. 11, 2017, in Readfield. The victim in that assault was her husband as well.
She was placed on deferred disposition Feb. 2, 2017, prohibited from using alcohol and illegal drugs and ordered to undergo substance abuse and psychological evaluation, and treatment if needed. A successful completion would have meant she could withdraw the guilty plea and the charge would be dismissed.
However, the state moved to terminate that agreement 11 days later, saying there were indications she had violated it by drinking alcohol on Feb. 7, 2017. She told troopers at the time she had been drinking vodka.
Earl-Costello’s defense attorney, J. Mitchell Flick, asked the judge to impose the minimum mandatory sentence, saying this was a tragic event.
“It’s clearly a combination of factors which just kind of reached a critical mass and she just lost it,” he said. “She wasn’t able to control her impulses, and she pulled the trigger with the gun pointed at her husband.”
After the hearing, he said he understood why Murphy imposed more than the minimum.
“The prior deferred disposition caused her to click it up a notch,” he said. “I am thankful; the judge could have imposed more.”
Sally Ann Earl-Costello said she still loves her husband of 38 years and what she did was “horrible, unthinkable.” (Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal)