The Lewiston man will be in prison until he is at least 70 years old.

AUBURN – Brandon Thongsavanh bowed his head as Justice Ellen Gorman talked about his long history of starting fights on the school yard, making threats against his family and friends and repeatedly breaking the law.

The 20-year-old father had cried moments earlier when his fiancee read aloud two poems that he wrote to her from jail – one to let her know she is always on his mind and another to admit that he is hurting inside but trying not to let it show.

But by the time Gorman was citing reports from a psychologist who concluded that he suffers from severe anger problems and an intense need to prove that he is big and bad, Thongsavanh had stopped sniffling.

His face was stoic, his eyes dry, when the judge asked him to stand, indicating that she was ready to announce his sentence for stabbing Bates College senior Morgan McDuffee to death on the morning of March 3, 2002.

“Morgan McDuffee is dead because Brandon Thongsavanh decided to turn a stupid street brawl into a murder,” the judge said.

Then she sentenced Thongsavanh to 58 years in state prison.

Gorman explained that she started with a base sentence of 50 years, then added eight more years because of “aggravating factors,” including his criminal record as a juvenile and his psychological profile.

The judge mentioned a map that Thongsavanh drew when he was 15, detailing his intentions to rob a bank and kill everyone inside. Thongsavanh’s mother told authorities that she didn’t feel safe in her own home after finding the drawing, Gorman said.

Gorman also mentioned that Thongsavanh, who grew up in Auburn, spent most of his adolescent years in the Maine Youth Center for various crimes. He got out when he was 16, she said, then returned two months later for stealing a gun.

Thongsavanh was released from the youth center when he was 18. At the time, Gorman continued, he told a counselor that his goal was to join a street-fighting club and move to Florida.

Now, even with time off for good behavior, the young father will be at least 70 when he gets out of prison.

His children, Isaiah and Tatyanna, will be in their early 50s.

‘Plea for safety’

For McDuffee’s parents and fiancee, the sentence brought little relief.

McDuffee was 22 when he died. He had already completed his senior thesis. He had plans to go to graduate school and marry his girlfriend of three years.

Witnesses say the popular athlete from Peterborough, N.H., was simply trying to break up the drunken fight between his college lacrosse teammates and a group of locals when Thongsavanh came out of nowhere and stabbed him five times – twice in the back and three times in the torso.

“Brandon Thongsavanh stabbed my son for no other reason but being drunk and bored,” Regis McDuffee said at Thursday’s sentencing hearing. “I miss Morgan every moment of my life. I miss him for who he was. I miss him for who he would have become.”

After he was stabbed, McDuffee lay in the arms of his fiancee, Suzanna Andrew, and struggled to breathe while an ambulance made its way to Main Street.

He died at the hospital a full hour later.

“Brandon Thongsavanh, in a moment of boredom and violence, took all my future hopes and dreams,” Andrew said. “He took the future father of my children. He took my best friend.”

When Andrew misses McDuffee’s voice, she listens to the last greeting he left on his cellular phone and a speech he recorded for a rhetoric class.

“Some might see jail as punishment but you can still hear those that speak behind bars,” she said. “I ask not for punishment. This is rather a plea for safety.”

No apology

Gorman said her decision to impose such a lengthy sentence was due in large part to Thongsavanh’s refusal to accept responsibility for the murder or to show any sympathy for McDuffee’s loved ones.

When she asked him if he wanted to say anything before she announced his sentence, he shook his head and mumbled, “No, your honor.”

Thongsavanh maintains that he is innocent.

“I understand that Morgan’s family is hurt and confused. I don’t know how I’d feel if I was in their place,” he said last week. “But I’m not going to say ‘sorry’ for something I didn’t do.”

Thongsavanh’s lawyer, William Maselli, asked Gorman to consider a sentence lighter than the state’s request for 60 years.

Repeating his arguments from the trial, Maselli attempted to convince the judge that the chaotic nature of the fight that led to McDuffee’s death left too many uncertainties.

“No single person who sat through the trial can claim to know with any confidence what happened that night,” Maselli said.

Appeal

Maselli plans to appeal the case to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

In the meantime, he has petitioned Androscoggin County Superior Court for a new trial, citing several reasons, including a statement that he recently obtained from a local girl who claims she overheard someone else confess to the killing.

Gorman will rule on the request at a later date.

Although Thongsavanh has said he won’t allow himself to get his hopes up after being shocked by the jury’s swift decision to convict him, his parents and fiancee are holding onto the possibility.

“I just hope we have a new trial,” said Thoune Thongsavanh before leaving the courthouse Thursday.

A cook at Bates College for 18 years, Thongsavanh’s father told Gorman during the sentencing hearing that his son is a kind, caring person who loves his two young children with all of his heart.

“He loves his mother, grandmother and aunt and uncles,” Thoune Thongsavanh said in his thick Laotian accent. “I never change my love for him. I’ll always love my son.”

Poems

Thongsavanh’s fiancee, Dori St. Germain, said she wishes that the judge could see Thongsavanh with their 1-year-old daughter and his son from a previous relationship.

“I’ve never seen a horrible side of him,” St. Germain said.

She said that Thongsavanh used to bring her roses when he picked her up from work and he has written her dozens of poems.

In one that she received shortly before the sentencing, he scribbled, “I’m hurting deep inside and I’m trying not to let it show. But the pain is still unbearable that I feel it slowly starting to grow… My heart feels like it is broken, my soul feels like it is all blocked.”

He titled it “My Pain.”



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