Willie Minor, left, charged with sex assault, sex trafficking and domestic violence, stands Monday morning in Androscoggin County Superior Court with his lawyer, Jeffrey Dolley, whom Minor tried to fire before his trial, which was later declared a mistrial.  (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — A judge declared a mistrial on the first day in a case that appeared doomed earlier Monday when a local man accused of sexual assault and sex trafficking tried to fire his lawyer shortly before the trial was to begin.

Justice Robert Clifford ended the day — and the short-lived trial — when he granted a motion by the defense to declare a mistrial because a witness describing the packaging of a gun entered into evidence made passing reference to the defendant’s federal trial in December, at which the gun also had been admitted as evidence.

The defense argued Monday that the witness’ statement about the federal charge could prejudice the jury against the defendant. The judge agreed, stopped the trial and released the jury.

The courtroom drama started to unfold Monday morning when the judge was informed that the defendant had accepted a plea offer from prosecutors as 13 jurors waited in the wings at Androscoggin County Superior Court.

Willie Minor, 58, of 30 Lake St. had been charged with gross sexual assault, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. He also was charged with aggravated sex trafficking and aggravated assault, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

A charge of felony domestic violence assault carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. He also is charged with domestic violence terrorizing and violation of privacy, both misdemeanors.

A jury of eight men and five women, picked last week, waited outside the courtroom ready to start Minor’s trial.

The victim in the case, who had asked to be in the courtroom for the surprise plea, had needed time to drive to Auburn. After she arrived with family and supporters, Minor told the judge he wanted to reject the plea agreement reached that morning and also wanted a new lawyer.

“I just feel coerced,” Minor said of the agreement.

He told Clifford that communication between himself and his principal lawyer, Jeffrey Dolley, had broken down and they had reached an impasse.

Dolley said he had encouraged his client to accept the plea offer and that he was concerned about his client’s odds in proceeding to trial on the six criminal charges.

“If he loses, he’s going to get a much worse sentence,” Dolley said. “He feels that I’m against him when I say things like that.”

Assistant District Attorney Nathan Walsh urged the judge to reject Minor’s efforts to delay the case. He said Minor had two attorneys working for him and that the defendant had taken a similar stance in a recent federal criminal case when he had sought a new attorney and received one.

“Mr. Minor,” Clifford said. “This is too late to raise this issue.”

Clifford noted that the case was already 2 years old.

“If the plea agreement is not acceptable, that’s fine. That’s up to you,” Clifford said. “I think it’s too late and so I’m going to proceed to require the defendant to proceed to the trial.”

Clifford told him that both of his lawyers were “competent,” and that he had had ample time to raise issues earlier.

The jury was called into the courtroom for the start of the scheduled five-day trial, with Dolley and Lorne Fairbanks representing Minor, who sat at a table next to Dolley.

Near the end of the day Monday, Walsh was questioning a local police officer about a package that contained a gun, which prosecutors were offering as evidence in their case. At that point, the officer referenced a recent trial in U.S. District Court in Portland at which Minor had been convicted of being a prohibited person having a firearm stemming from a 2010 misdemeanor domestic violence assault conviction. He was later sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison.

On Nov. 27, 2016, in an interview with a detective at the Auburn Police Department, Minor admitted he had a gun, and told police he kept it at his apartment. Police later searched his apartment after getting a warrant and found the .38-caliber pistol Minor had described.

After referencing the federal trial, Dolley motioned for mistrial, suggesting that information could improperly influence the jury in its verdict. Clifford granted the motion, effectively ending the trial.

Shortly afterward, Dolley filed a motion to withdraw as Minor’s attorney. Clifford granted that motion. Fairbanks will continue representing Minor and another defense attorney will be appointed by the court, Clifford said.

Minor’s new trial likely won’t be scheduled before the fall.

Police said in court papers that Minor had raped a local woman in 2016, then forced her into prostitution and beat her with a gun, hammer and dinner plate.

In an affidavit, Detective Marshall McCamish wrote that police began investigating Minor in late November 2016 after a 45-year-old woman reported he forced her into prostitution before turning jealous and repeatedly beating her, at one point placing a belt around her neck and pulling it tight.

The woman told investigators that Minor created several Backpage.com accounts to advertise her services as a prostitute. She also said Minor instructed her on what sex acts she was to perform on clients and controlled the money she made through prostitution.

According to the affidavit, the woman told investigators that she met Minor in the early summer of 2016 while walking on Bates Street in Lewiston. Minor was looking for drugs, the woman told police. A short time later, Minor paid the woman for oral sex but then forced her to have intercourse.

The woman, homeless at the time, told police that Minor coerced her into a working relationship by offering money and a place to live. Soon, however, the relationship turned violent, police said.

The woman told investigators that on Nov. 23, Minor accused her of being unfaithful. He threatened to kill her, she said, striking her with a gun and placing the belt around her neck.

The woman told police that she awoke one day in November to find Minor standing above her with a small sledge hammer in his hand. Minor beat her in the back of the head with the hammer, she said, injuring her head and hand as she tried to ward off the blows. Days later, he punched her and broke a dinner plate over her head, according to the affidavit.

The woman went to the police station where she said she had attempted to flee Minor’s apartment but he had snatched the phone out of her hand. She said she had been afraid to leave because of Minor’s threats that he would kill her.

The woman told investigators that Minor’s home at 30 Lake St. had been used for prostitution involving several females. She provided police with the names of other women.

After she was interviewed by police, the woman was taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where she was treated for injuries to her head. Police took photographs that were presented in court Monday, before the judge declared a mistrial.

A search of Minor’s home turned up a hammer, found under a pink chair in the living room. Police also found a broken dinner plate in the kitchen trash. A handgun with a partially loaded, inserted magazine was found in the bathroom cabinet. What appeared to be reddish brown stains were found on a comforter and on the wall above the futon located in the living room.

“The top floor bedroom was decorated around the bed with mirrors, and items associated with sex were found throughout the room. I also noticed that the bed in the top floor bedroom appeared to be similar to the bed captured in one of the images posted to one of (the woman’s) Backpage accounts,” McCamish had written in his affidavit.

In an opening statement Monday, Dolley had told the jury that the victim’s credibility would be called into question.

He said the jury would learn that after she claimed Minor had forced himself on her, the two had exchanged phone numbers and she had gone home.

Within a few days, she had pursued Minor. She and her partner at the time had gone to Minor’s house “for the purpose of trying to engage in a threesome with him,” Dolley told the jury.

“She’s going to make some terrible accusations, accusing him of having done some terrible things to her over the course of several months when she was living with him,” after having asked to move in with him at his apartment, Dolley said.

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