AUBURN — Shortly before his trial got underway Monday, a Massachusetts man facing up to 30 years in prison on an attempted murder charge pleaded guilty to lesser charges, for which he could get a maximum sentence of 3½ years.

Nathaniel Ashwood appears with his attorney, Verne Paradie Monday in Androscoggin County Superior Court where he had been scheduled to stand trial on a charge of attempted murder. He pleaded to lesser charges before the trial started. Christopher Williams/Sun Journal

Jurors were already assembled in Androscoggin County Superior Court when Nathaniel D. Ashwood, 33, of Springfield, Massachusetts, accepted a plea offer from prosecutors.

Police arrested Ashwood on June 12, 2020, after he fired shots at a woman on Bartlett Street.

Dressed in a button-down shirt and tie for his trial, Ashwood pleaded guilty to two felonies: reckless conduct with a firearm and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, each count punishable by up to five years in prison.

In a plea agreement, he can be sentenced to a maximum of 3½ years in prison. His attorney, Lewiston lawyer Verne Paradie, is expected to argue for less time behind bars at sentencing, which is set for Wednesday.

Prosecutors said they plan to dismiss charges of attempted murder and robbery. Each of those is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

The two charges had “serious proof issues,” Paradie told Justice Harold Stewart II.

Had a jury been presented at trial with evidence that included street surveillance video, plus Ashwood’s DNA on a recovered handgun, a pair of sunglasses and a hat, it was “going to very likely find (Ashwood) guilty” of the two lesser felonies to which Ashwood pleaded guilty, Paradie said.

In a motion argued in court last month, Paradie claimed the case should have been thrown out because his client had been denied a speedy trial. He pointed to delays in transferring evidence to the Maine Crime Lab in Augusta and further delays in testing.

Stewart denied his motion, citing the novel coronavirus pandemic for much of the delay.

Deputy District Attorney Andrew Matulis said after the plea hearing Monday that the woman and main witnesses were subpoenaed to trial, but prosecutors weren’t confident they would attend court or testify to the events that led to the more serious charges. He said that was the “driving force” behind the plea agreement.

Ashwood’s trial was scheduled to last three days. He remains in Androscoggin County Jail in lieu of $200,000 cash bail.

According to witnesses and surveillance video, Ashwood had been walking through a crowd of people,  including women and children, when he confronted a woman, asking if she was laughing at him, according to police.

He pulled a gun from his waistband and aimed it at her head and told her to give him all her money, police said in court papers.

Witnesses said Ashwood ran from the woman, but fired shots in her direction, according to police, who later recovered nine shell casings from the area of 129 Bartlett St., where the confrontation occurred and along the street in the direction Ashwood ran, police said.

Police also found the discarded hat and sunglasses seen in video footage being worn by the suspect.

Ashwood’s DNA was found on those items, as well as a silver Ruger handgun that had been discarded in the area.

Police arrested Ashwood minutes after the shooting when he was spotted fleeing on nearby Blake Street.

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