Murder sentence outrages family

This story was published on July 24, 2004 on Page A1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

BANGOR – The family of a pregnant woman stabbed to death by her husband 18 months ago reacted with anger and dismay on Friday when a Maine Superior Court justice sentenced the Bangor man to 50 years in prison for murder.

In emotional statements, relatives of Heather Fliegelman Sargent urged Justice E. Allen Hunter to send Roscoe Sargent, 30, to prison for life. Prosecutors also recommended a life sentence at the hearing in Penobscot County Superior Court.

Hunter, however, said that Maine case law laid out specific circumstances in which a life sentence could be imposed and the Sargent case did not include them.

In announcing the sentence – which could total less than 50 years factoring in good behavior while Sargent is incarcerated – the justice outlined the factors he weighed in making his decision.

“On the aggravating side, at the top of my list is the issue of responsibility and remorse,” Hunter said. “I do not see acceptance of responsibility or remorse from the defendant, nor do I see it in the statements of support [from Sargent's sisters]. I look for it in the words of the defendant.”

Sargent did not speak during the two-hour hearing and showed no emotion when the sentence was imposed. His attorney, Christopher Largay of Bangor, had offered on his client’s behalf an apology to the court, his family and his wife’s family.

“The victim impact [in this case] is profound and enduring,” Hunter continued. “The loss of Heather and her child is a deep and lasting wound. That has been clearly displayed today. The victim impact in this case is simply staggering.”

Sargent, 30, stabbed his wife 47 times using at least two different knives. The 20-year-old woman was eight months pregnant with her first child at the time of her death.

Sargent was not charged in the death of his unborn son as Maine’s homicide law does not apply to unborn fetuses.

Hunter found Sargent guilty of murder in March after a three-day, jury-waived trial

Police found Fliegelman Sargent’s body and four dead cats on Monday, Jan. 6, 2003, at the couple’s Bangor residence in the Rainbow Trailer Park on outer Ohio Street.

That morning, Sargent had turned himself in to federal authorities accompanied by Brett Baber, the Bangor attorney appointed in 2001 to represent him on drug and gun possession charges in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

At his trial, investigators testified that after Sargent murdered his wife, he emptied out their bank account and spent two days partying in Bangor hotels before surrendering to authorities.

Last month, Sargent was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison on the drug and gun charges. He pleaded guilty to those charges in March after the murder trial ended but before the verdict was announced.

Hunter ordered that Sargent’s murder sentence run concurrently with his federal sentence. The defendant must complete the federal sentence at an out-of-state facility before serving the murder sentence in Maine.

Sargent, dressed in the suit he wore for his trial, appeared relaxed and leaned back in his chair at the defense table during Friday’s hearing. He appeared to have lost about 40 pounds since his first court appearance in early 2003. His slight frame and boyish looks were a sharp contrast to the “monster” his victim’s family described.

He did not seem to flinch, however, when one of his wife’s uncles lunged at him as Penobscot County sheriff’s deputies were leading him from the courtroom.

“You son of a bitch, I hope you get everything you deserve,” Michael Hurst of Texas shouted.

Hurst’s daughter, Cassandra Hurst, 14, sobbed uncontrollably as she grabbed her father’s arm and pulled him from the second-floor courtroom.

On the steps of the courthouse after the sentencing, Kristen Eckmann, 28, of Bangor, the victim’s aunt, wept as she looked skyward and announced she was moving out of state.

“Thanks, Ross. You win, Ross,” she said, referring to Sargent.

Earlier, Gary Eckmann of Hampden read a statement from his stepson, George Fliegelman, the victim’s father.

Fliegelman could not attend the sentencing, Gary Eckmann told Hunter, because he was hospitalized in Connecticut after suffering a stroke earlier this week.

In his letter to the judge, Fliegelman said that he wanted Sargent to get the death penalty, which is outlawed in Maine, but would settle for life imprisonment.

“Jonah, my baby grandson, will not sit on my lap and I will not read books to him as I did to his mom,” wrote the victim’s father. “This was a senseless loss for all.”

Outside the courtroom, Kristen Eckmann expressed concern at how Fliegelman, who in his statement asked Hunter to impose a life sentence, would react to Sargent’s 50-year sentence.

She also said that before she left Maine, she would work to pass a fetal homicide law. Throughout the trial, Fliegelman Sargent’s family insisted that her unborn child was a second victim. Family members Friday showed autopsy photos of the boy, named Jonah, to Hunter and the media.

Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson said after the hearing that although he had asked for a life sentence, “50 years is well within the range of appropriate sentences.”

Largay recommended Sargent be sentenced to 30 years, five years above the mandatory minimum sentence for murder.

Although Sargent’s sisters did not attend the sentencing, in letters read by Largay, they asked the judge to show their brother compassion.

“He is beyond depressed and has great remorse for what he did,” wrote Lori Townsend, 36, of New York.

Largay and co-counsel Joseph Pickering of Bangor left the courthouse Friday without speaking to reporters.

A1 for Saturday, July 24, 2004

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