CARIBOU — Dean Michaud, a Canadian man convicted in November of the manslaughter death of his college classmate, was sentenced Monday to 13 years in prison.
The sentence came after an emotional three-hour hearing in Aroostook County Superior Court attended by about 90 friends and family members of Michaud, 20, of Clair, New Brunswick, and of the deceased, Thomas Maki, 20, of East Bridgewater, Mass. Both men were students at the University of Maine at Fort Kent at the time of Maki’s death.
Michaud was convicted by Justice Susan Calkins of manslaughter after a five-day, nonjury trial in Caribou. Investigators charged that Michaud assaulted Maki on the banks of the St. John River in Frenchville and held him underwater until he drowned. According to trial testimony, the fight broke out over the affections of a young woman, Barbie Ouellette of Frenchville, a UMFK student and a former Miss Madawaska.
In handing down the sentence, Justice Calkins explained in detail the sentencing process, citing similar manslaughter cases. She thanked all those who made presentations and said, “It’s been a difficult case for me as well.
“I really wish I could say something that could ease the pain of those involved,” said the justice, “but I can’t, so I’m not going to try.”
About a dozen people, including Michaud, addressed Calkins before she sentenced the defendant to 16 years in jail, with three years suspended. Michaud also will serve three years probation, which he will serve in New Brunswick.
For the first time in the case, Michaud spoke out Monday. He said he was in “shock” and “scared” the first time he spoke to police about what happened on Sept. 11, 1996, the night Maki died.
Speaking through tears and clutching a handkerchief, Michaud said that he told the truth during the final police interview during which he said that Maki threw the first punch. The defendant also claimed that Maki had held Michaud underwater for a brief period of time.
“I feel sorry for what happened,” said Michaud, turning toward Gary and Rosemarie Maki, the victim’s parents. “I’m sorry for all the pain I’ve inflicted on everyone involved.”
Michaud said that he had learned his lesson regarding the use of violence to solve problems.
“The lesson in this case is about violence,” said Michaud, who was dressed in slacks, a turtleneck and suit jacket. “I have learned the biggest lesson in my life. I hope other people can learn from this too, learn that violence leads nowheres.
“It’s violence that brought me here today,” a tearful Michaud continued. The defendant asked the judge for a “second chance.”
Michaud’s father, Lucien Michaud of Clair, New Brunswick, offered few comments after his son’s sentencing.
“We’re Canadians and it showed,” the angry father said as he left the courtroom. About 50 Michaud supporters and family members attended the hearing. “I thought it was a fair sentence considering her verdict in the case,” said Gary Maki, the victim’s father, after the hearing. “It was kind of middle ground. She handled the case well.”
With the trial over, the “healing process” now can start, added Gary Maki.
Rosemarie Maki, the victim’s mother, said she was not moved by Michaud’s statement.
“He’s had two months to come up with this since the verdict,” said the Massachusetts woman. “I don’t think he was sincere.”
Missing from the sentence hearing was Barbie Ouellette. Reached at her grandmother’s home in Fort Kent, Ouellette said it was too hard to return to court. She had testified during Michaud’s trial in November.
“I’m just glad the whole thing is over,” Ouellette said. “It doesn’t matter what he got. It’s as if someone closed a book. This is the back part of the book.”
The case has generated considerable interest in northern Aroostook County and New Brunswick. Several UMFK students and administrators attended the hearing, as did media representatives from both sides of the border.
When the sentence was announced, David Michaud, the defendant’s brother, appeared to be the only family member who understood what the judge said. He shook his head in disbelief and looked at his parents who were sitting on each side of him.
After the hearing, Nicole Michaud, the defendant’s mother, collapsed into a bystander’s arms, sobbing loudly. Dean Michaud’s aunts and uncles asked a court officer how long Michaud would be in prison and if the 14 months Michaud already has served would count toward the prison term. According to state law, he will be able to apply the time awaiting trial to his prison sentence.
Assistant Attorney General Fernand LaRochelle, who prosecuted the case, said the sentence was “fair” and that it considered both sides. The state’s attorney had argued previously that Michaud should spend 17 years in prison.
E. Allen Hunter of Caribou, Michaud’s attorney, said he appreciated the time the judge put into deciding a sentence. He had argued that Michaud should serve only two years, including time already spent in the county jail awaiting trial.
Michaud has 20 days to decide whether he will appeal both the verdict and the sentence to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Hunter said he would consult with his client before filing an appeal.
Security was tight during the hearing. Those entering the courthouse Monday morning had to pass through a metal detector and have bags and purses checked. All other entrances to the building were blocked.
Two 8-by-10-inch framed photographs of Maki were positioned on the prosecution’s table for the judge to see. Boxes of tissues were handed out freely to the Maki family, who traveled from Massachusetts for the hearing.
Those who spoke on behalf of the Makis and Michaud gave descriptions of Michaud, ranging from his being a “gentle giant” to someone who “has no heart.” While the victim’s family asked for the maximum sentence of 40 years for the Class A crime, Michaud’s supporters asked that the defendant be set free.
Rosemarie Maki read a 14-page statement during the hearing, detailing her son’s life and the pain the family has experienced since his death.
“Unless there is any other person in this courtroom today who has lost a child, then I am afraid that my pain will fall on deaf ears,” the victim’s mother said.
Rosemarie Maki also charged that Michaud hit her son on the back of the head with a baseball bat.
“Had they [police] searched your car, Dean, they would have found a wooden baseball bat, the one you used to beat my son … ,” she said.
During a break in the proceedings, state police Detective Dale Keegan and Assistant Attorney General LaRochelle both said they were unaware of any baseball bat used in the assault upon Maki.
David Michaud later told the court that he cleaned out his brother’s car after the drowning and did not find a baseball bat.
Struggling to contain her sobs, Cindy Picanzo, an aunt of Thomas Maki, described the agony suffered by her nephew’s family.
“If I could sentence you today, Dean, it would be to spend one hour with the Maki family, because only then could you possibly know the pain you have caused,” Picanzo said.
Throughout the Makis’ presentations, Michaud wept openly, wiping his eyes and nose. His mother, Nicole Michaud, sat through much of the hearing with her hand over her mouth. At times, she wept.
Several childhood and school friends of Michaud’s also addressed the court, asking that he be given his freedom. Shawn Morneault sobbed aloud as he struggled to deliver a statement.
“He’s my friend,” said Morneault, who owns a computer business and lives in Clair.
Nicole Michaud offered her family’s deepest sympathy to the Maki family. With her husband beside her, she also implored the judge to let her son go.
“I feel he has been punished enough,” she said as she began to cry.
A Clair grocery store owner and active community member, Louis LaBrie spoke at length and expressed his sympathy to the Maki family. Like Superman, LaBrie said, he wished the hands of time could be turned back to before Sept. 11, 1996.
At that point, Picanzo, Maki’s aunt, said loud enough for all in the courtroom to hear, “He [Michaud] must pay.”
LaBrie continued, saying that his own children and Michaud played together when they were younger.
“I would not have let my children play with a murderer,” LaBrie said.
The grocer said Michaud had worked for him in his store. “I would not employ a person who had a criminal mind,” he said.
LaBrie “begged” the court to let the defendant go free.
“Give us back Dean, Your Honor, and we’re going to take him back home,” LaBrie said to the judge.