NORRIDGEWOCK — A local farmer who was sent to prison in 2012 on kidnapping and other charges stemming from an incident at a Jay paper mill was found dead Thursday after he was pinned under a piece of farm equipment, police said.

Francis Gordon Smith III, 56, was pinned under a manure spreader at his home on the Ward Hill Road in Norridgewock, according to the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

James Ross, chief deputy at the Sheriff’s Office, confirmed Friday that Smith was the same man who pleaded guilty to kidnapping, criminal threatening, terrorizing and assault charges for taking a hostage at a Jay paper mill in March 2012.

Ross said it appears Smith was working to repair the equipment when the front tongue jack, which appears to have not been properly pinned in place, rotated and caused the spreader to fall on him. He said members of the Norridgewock Fire Department used a hydraulic extrication tool to lift the equipment off Smith.

Authorities do not know exactly when the accident happened, but family members who discovered the accident said they had not seen or spoken to Smith since Monday. The State Medical Examiner’s Office was notified.

Smith was sentenced to 12 years in prison, with all but five years suspended. Upon his release, he was to serve six years’ probation.

A spokeswoman at the Maine State Prison in Warren said Friday that Smith was released from the Charleston Correctional Facility, now called Mountain View Correctional Facility, on April 29, 2016. He was released to the office of probation, she said.

Smith’s lawyer at the time, Walter McKee, of Augusta, said Smith was severely depressed about losing his job at the mill after having worked there for almost 25 years. Smith held the mill manager hostage in his office at Verso Paper’s Androscoggin Mill in Jay for more than six hours on March 14.

McKee said when Smith arrived at the mill about 9 a.m. the day of the incident, the shotgun and handgun he brought were not loaded.

After loading the weapons, according to McKee, Smith asked Marc Connor, the mill manager, to kill him.

District Attorney Andrew Robinson in Franklin County said in 2012 that Connor reported that there were three moments when he thought he was going to be killed.

Robinson said Smith held a handgun to Connor’s head and forced him into a chair during the incident. After negotiating with police over the phone, Smith released Connor, then, nearly nine hours later, left the office.

Verso Paper attorney David Barry said at the sentencing hearing that Smith’s crime inflicted “many levels of profound damage” that caused emotional distress to the employees and hurt the mill financially.

Before sentencing in November 2012, Smith read from a statement that he was a different person at the time of the crime. He asked Justice Michaela Murphy to “remember the good Francis” who would not commit those crimes and said there was “absolutely no chance of there being repeat behavior.”

Murphy said it is rare for her to give probation to someone who committed serious crimes such as Smith’s, but she felt there was evidence he was remorseful and would use probation to get any help he needed.

“I often do not offer probation when there has been serious conduct, but I’m confident he would take advantage of those opportunities in probation,” she said.

Francis Gordon Smith III

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