LEWISTON — A lower court judge who came under fire because she lowered the bail of a defendant who had a violent past and who, days later, went on a criminal rampage was only carrying out her constitutional duty, Maine’s top judge said Monday.

Leein Hinkley submitted photo

Police said Leein Amos Hinkley, 43, attacked a woman and her boyfriend early Saturday at her home on Russell Avenue in Auburn before setting a fire that destroyed her home and a neighboring house.

Hinkley, who was shooting at police, was later shot dead by a Maine State Police tactical unit.

The woman escaped to safety. In the aftermath, human remains were recovered in the rubble of the home; the boyfriend’s whereabouts are unknown since the shootout.

Barbara Cardone, a spokeswoman for the Maine Judicial Branch, said in a media statement Monday the events that unfolded on Russell Street are “tragic.”

But, Cardone said: “It is dangerous and short-sighted to blame the court for the horrific acts because it obscures the real nature of the problem: an insufficient number of attorneys willing to represent the rights of the accused.”


In this case, Hinkley, who had been on probation stemming from a 2011 double stabbing, had been arrested on domestic violence charges.

At an initial court appearance on May 24, the judge ordered him held without bail on an alleged probation violation and set a high bail on new charges of domestic violence assault and domestic violence aggravated assault.

The judge ordered a court-appointed attorney to be assigned to Hinkley, as required by the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

But, no attorney was available, Cardone said.

Hinkley appeared in court again on May 31, but still no attorney was available to represent him.

On June 7, when Hinkley appeared again in court and there was still no attorney available, the judge found that to be a violation of Hinkley’s constitutional rights, Cardone said.


His final court appearance was June 12 and when there was no attorney to represent him as an indigent, Judge Sarah Churchill ordered his bail reduced from $5,000 to $1,500 cash.

At the same time, she imposed significant conditions of release, “as a remedy for the ongoing violation of Hinkley’s constitutional rights,” Cardone said.

Auburn firefighters hose down the remains of a home Saturday on Russell Avenue in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“The crisis of lack of counsel has been developing for years; it will not disappear overnight. This is a systemic problem and one that all partners in the criminal justice system must work together to resolve rather than criticizing each other without offering a solution,” Cardone said in her written statement.

“As I have highlighted before, the lack of appointed counsel in this state is a constitutional crisis. As a result, every day judges must make extraordinarily difficult decisions, balancing the constitutional rights of the accused with the needs of the public,” Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill said Monday.

“While prosecutors argue for defendants to continue to be incarcerated before trial and defense attorneys argue for charges to be dismissed, the burden falls on our dedicated judges to make the hard decisions in each case. Our system of justice depends on all the parts of the system being adequately resourced so that the parts can work together toward a just end for everyone. If one or more of the parts is inadequately funded, or missing altogether, the system will break down.”

Maine is the only state that doesn’t have a statewide public defender system.


Instead, most indigent defendants are represented by criminal defense attorneys who sign on to be rostered by the Maine Commission on Public Defense Services to be appointed to defendants in need of legal counsel because they are facing possible jail time.

Yet, some languish in jail awaiting a court-appointed attorney who doesn’t materialize for weeks or even months.

In recent years, the commission has had difficulty recruiting qualified attorneys despite a substantial increase in hourly rates.

“Because there are too few lawyers on the rosters, the trial court is frequently unable to assign constitutionally required counsel for defendants who have been charged with crimes,” Cardone said.


Neil McLean Jr., who serves as district attorney for Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, said Monday that while he doesn’t disagree with Cardone and Stanfill, he believes the blame doesn’t lie solely with the commission.


Judges must weigh competing interests of a defendant’s constitutional rights — “which is incredibly important” — against public safety concerns, — “which is also incredibly important,” McLean said.

Of the 2,427 criminal cases pending in Androscoggin County, McLean said there is a “large chunk” where the 6th Amendment outweighs public safety considerations.

In those cases, bail could be reduced or even removed.

On Monday, Judge Churchill considered five additional cases of indigent defendants who lacked legal counsel. She continued four of them for three weeks; a lawyer in the courtroom volunteered to take the fifth case. Charges, including domestic violence assault, against a sixth defendant, who had gone more than 100 days without a lawyer, were formally dismissed.

But, McLean said, “The problem with Hinkley, in particular, is it wasn’t your minor case. It was a human being that had received a 15-year prison sentence (for stabbing his domestic partner), served the vast majority of it and was out for less than a year.”

Armed-Standoff Maine

Police evidence markers are placed next to shell casings Saturday in front of a home in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

That’s when Hinkley was arrested on new domestic violence charges. And he was still on probation for the earlier stabbings.


Other criminal history dating back to 2001 includes domestic violence crimes, McLean said.

Prosecutors had argued against lowering bail for Hinkley last week.

Hinkley recently was alleged to have strangled a survivor at two separate locations, one in Auburn one in Lewiston, McLean said.

Hinkley had been in jail on the new charges for 20 days without a lawyer, not months. Plus, Hinkley had a probation violation pending against him, “which means he didn’t have a right to bail,” McLean said.

“The court had to make a finding that there were conditions that could be put in place that would protect public safety, ensure he didn’t commit new criminal conduct and protect judicial process,” McLean said.

Less than two days after his release, he was alleged to have killed someone, McLean said.


Remembering clearly the mass shooting from Oct. 25, 2023, in Lewiston, the greater community is now asking, “how did this happen?” McLean said. “How did we let someone this dangerous back into the community?”

McLean said those are fair questions and he’d like to know the answers.

“I think that’s why you see the outrage from law enforcement and others because law enforcement did their job here. Probation did their job here. The district attorney’s office did their job,” he said.

While there exists a real problem with too few criminal defense attorneys to adequately represent indigent defendants, McLean said, “we didn’t properly evaluate public safety, in my humble opinion. And that’s why we are where we are.

On Sunday, The Maine Fraternal Order of Police and the Maine State Troopers Association issued a joint press release rebuking Judge Churchill for reducing Hinkley’s bail.

James Billings, executive director at Maine Commission on Public Defense Services responded Monday to the rebuke of Judge Churchill leveled by the Fraternal Order of Police.


“An organization with your mission statement that recognizes the importance of the U.S. Constitution and legal defense ought to understand the current predicament Maine courts find themselves in when they cannot find defense counsel to appoint to those who are constitutionally entitled to a defense.”

“Right now, our state is in a crisis,” Billings said. “People are sitting in jail or are under conditions of release because they are accused of a crime. They have the right to an appointed lawyer because the prosecutor chose to file charges against them and requested jail for their sentence. Their cases are getting older, evidence and witnesses can become unavailable, court dates are coming up, filing deadlines are passing and they have no one. Not a name, not a phone number and not a chance when they next head to court to face the government and their attorneys, all alone.”

Joseph Philippon, a detective with the Lewiston Police Department, wrote Sunday on Facebook that the judicial system is failing due, in part, to changes triggered by the pandemic leading to case overloads.

Too few prosecutors and restrictions on court-appointed attorneys has added to the problem, he wrote.

The result is jail overcrowding that leads to more defendants being released.

“So, those committing disorder are allowed to roam until, of course, their behavior escalates from drinking in public, trespassing and disorderly conduct to robbery, arson, shooting and murder, but the judiciary remains aloof,” he wrote.

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