ROCKLAND — The felony murder trial of Allen Teele opened Thursday with a chilling account of the night four years ago when a 79-year-old Warren man was beaten by three young robbers and left to die.
Teele, 27, is one of three men who invaded the trailer of Carroll W. Howard on April 1 or 2, 1992, intending to rob the elderly man to buy liquor, prosecutors said.
Teele’s two accomplices, who already have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing, say all three hit Howard in the face when they found no money, and left him bleeding and semiconscious with his telephone ripped from the wall.
Howard was found dead on April 4, 1992, two or three days after the attack, by a friend who had stopped to check on him. The cause of death was determined to be massive bleeding from crushed facial bones.
The robbers netted $5 in change and tools they sold for $30.
The crime went unsolved for 2 1/2 years, before Teele, 27, of Westbrook, Earl Nash, 26, of Camden and Floyd Firth Jr., 32, of Rockland were arrested on Jan. 11, 1995. Information leading to the arrest came from Dalton Malmstrom II of Rockland after he was arrested for a string of burglaries he had committed with Nash. Malmstrom also is Teele’s brother-in-law.
Last fall, Nash pleaded guilty to felony murder and six counts of burglary, and agreed to a maximum 20-year sentence in return for his testimony against Teele. Firth pleaded guilty to felony murder and will serve a maximum of 10 years. He also will testify against Teele.
A lesser crime than intentional murder, felony murder is charged when a death occurs as the unintended result of another crime, such as robbery. Teele also faces a charge of manslaughter and two counts of robbery. Free on bail since his arrest, Teele admits to participating in the robbery but denies joining in the attack that led to Howard’s death.
Nash took the witness stand in Knox County Superior Court Thursday afternoon, describing the events that followed after he, Teele and Firth got together “to smoke pot and drive around and have some drinks.”
When the half-gallon of coffee brandy ran low, Nash said, the three planned on finding an empty house to burglarize for money for more alcohol. Instead, he said, Firth suggested they rob Howard, who he believed kept large sums of cash on hand.
After first visiting Teele’s grandparents and borrowing bandanas from friends, the men drove to Howard’s trailer. Nash said the plan was for Firth, who knew Howard, “to go in first and try to con the old man out of some money. If that didn’t work, Allen and I were going to go in with the bandanas, holler and scream to intimidate him.”
With Firth’s attempt unsuccessful, Nash said he and Teele broke the outside light and entered the trailer. “We hollered about money, and he said he’d get a gun, so I pushed him with my left hand and hit him with my right. He fell on the floor, up against a chair. He didn’t get up.”
Nash said he then told the other two they would all have to hit Howard “because the crime had escalated and we all had to be responsible. There was no response — they just acted. It all happened in the blink of an eye.” Busy trying to open a toolbox, Nash said he saw both approach Howard and heard the blows struck. Nash said he hit Howard on the mouth, but also saw the victim’s nose bleeding and a red mark on his cheek.
A toolbox, a suitcase and the telephone were the only items the robbers took, and those only because they worried they would leave fingerprints behind, Nash said. “When we left, I looked at the man — he was bleeding from his nose and mouth and gasping for air.”
Nash said he realized the telephone might be Howard’s only way of getting help. “I thought of calling 911, but I was afraid we’d get caught,” he said.
The men then drove to the Medomak River to dump some items, talking about the crime on the way, Nash said. “We agreed if we were caught, we’d all admit to assault and robbery, that if one of us tried to get out of it, we’d all end up in prison together and somebody would end up dead.”
Also testifying Thursday was Malmstrom, who described incriminating conversations he had with both Teele and Nash about Howard’s death.
In her opening statement, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese told the jury a felony murder conviction is the trial’s only logical outcome. “Is it reasonably foreseeable, when three strong, young men beat a 79-year-old man and take his phone, that he will die? In this trial, you will see a slice of life that is unfamiliar to you, one you will find troubling and disturbing.”
Defense attorney John Nale said Teele joined in the robbery, but laid blame for the death on Nash, claiming Teele did not hit Howard, but only pretended to comply with Nash’s order by slapping the victim’s upraised hands.
“They had a plan to commit one crime, but Nash stepped out of the plan and committed another,” Nale said. “He [Teele] knows he did wrong, he wants to be punished for what he did, nothing more, nothing less.”