ALFRED — A friend of Rosaire Rheaume testified Wednesday at Maine’s first assisted suicide trial that the retired grocer spoke daily of killing himself and offered money to help end his life.
Richard Gabriele, who also was Rheume’s longtime tenant, took the stand in York County Superior Court as prosecution testimony continued in the trial of Richard Desjardins.
Desjardins, 52, of Sanford is charged with intentionally assisting in Rheaume’s suicide. If convicted, he faces a maximum of one year in jail, a $2,000 fine and a year of probation.
Gabriele testified that Rheaume, 84, offered money to help end his life last July 23, the day before his body was found slumped in his car in the garage of his Saco home. Authorities concluded that he died of asphyxiation from carbon monoxide fumes.
Under questioning from District Attorney Michael T. Cantara, Gabriele said Rheaume was despondent about his wife’s death earlier that year and indicated that he wanted help committing suicide.
“Truthfully, every time we got to the cemetery (to visit Josephine Rheaume’s grave), which was once or twice a day, he said the only thing he wanted was to die,” Gabriele said.
Cantara then asked if Rheaume had ever offered anyone money to help him fulfill that wish.
“All I know is he offered money to me twice. I told him if I did it, I would do it out of the goodness of my heart,” Gabriele replied.
“The last day before he died he asked me again and I said no both times,” Garbriele said. “He was just fed up and he was just going to do it one way or another.”
Gabriele said Desjardins was a friend of Rheaume for 15 years and occasionally did maintenance work on the Saco man’s building.
The witness also testified that he saw Desjardins arrive at Rheaume’s home within a few hours of the time his body of found.
Sue Johnston, an employee at the adjacent Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, also linked Desjardins to the scene, testifying that she saw him close Rheaume’s garage window before firefighters arrived.
In opening arguments Tuesday, Cantara noted that authorities found that Rheaume’s car was not running and the keys were gone.
Defense attorney Albert Lefebvre told the jury of nine women and five men that the case against Desjardins was not as clear-cut as the prosecution alleged.
“He was doing his best to make his friend comfortable, comfortable in his loneliness,” Lefebvre said. “It’s not such an easy case as Mr. Desjardins helping Mr. Rheaume commit suicide and then walking out. That’s not what happened.”
The trial is expected to continue through Friday.