DOVER-FOXCROFT — A Skowhegan man was found guilty Thursday of robbery and aggravated assault in the 1994 beating, stabbing and robbery of an elderly Canadian man in Canaan.
Michael Thompson, 35, of Skowhegan appeared angry as the guilty verdict was read in Piscataquis County Superior Court. He faces a maximum sentence of 40 years for the robbery and 10 years for the aggravated assault of Eugene Fortin, 70, of Levis, Quebec. Fortin was attacked and left for dead after stopping to ask for directions in October 1994.
Thompson, who had remained stonefaced for much of the weeklong trial, glowered at his court-appointed attorney, Dale Thistle of Newport, as he was lead to his seat in the courtroom before the verdict was announced at about 2:40 p.m.. Extra court officers were assigned to the trial for security reasons because of the defendant’s past criminal record and the serious nature of the crime.
Fortin’s son and daughter-in-law, Jared and Meloney Fortin of Winslow, attended much of the trial, but had to leave before the verdict was announced because of a family obligation.
Fortin, who had suffered two strokes before the assault, suffered another stroke as a result of the attack and is now an invalid at a Canadian nursing home. He can neither communicate nor care for himself.
Sentencing for Thompson, who has an extensive criminal record, will be conducted in Bangor in about two weeks. He is being held without bail at the Maine State Prison in Thomaston.
Thistle wasn’t available for comment after the verdict was read.
Andrew Benson, the assistant Somerset County district attorney who prosecuted the case, referred questions to District Attorney David Crook, who could not be reached.
During its three hours of deliberation, the jury of 10 women and two men asked for a reading by the court reporter of testimony heard earlier in the week from three witnesses who were with Thompson the night of the robbery and attack. The testimony centered around who had possession of a K-Bar knife that was used in the attack.
Justice Margaret Kravchuk told the jurors they had two choices in addition to findings of guilty and not guilty concerning Thompson’s participation in the robbery and aggravated assault. If they hadn’t found him guilty of being the principal in the robbery and aggravated assault, they would have had to decide whether he was an accomplice in both the robbery and aggravated assault.
The French-speaking Fortin had stopped at the Canaan Superette on Route 2 for directions to Winslow shortly after 8 p.m. on Oct. 4, 1994. Fortin left the store after getting directions but was unable to find his way and returned about a half-hour later.
It was on his second visit to the store that Fortin met Thompson, who offered his assistance. Fortin followed a vehicle occupied by Thompson, Debbie Turcotte, Linwood Steward, Jodi Olsen and Corey Trial, all from the Canaan-Skowhegan area, over back roads ending at the Ames Road, also known as the Steam Mill Road. There Fortin was beaten, stabbed, robbed and left for dead in a ditch. His car was ransacked and all four tires were slashed.
Turcotte, Olsen and Steward testified that they, including Thompson and Trial, had spent a day of drinking prior to the attack. They testified that it was Thompson who suggested that they “roll” Fortin, who appeared to have money. They also said he had the K-Bar knife, a large blade military knife, and that he had assaulted Fortin.
Two fingerprints taken from the exterior of Fortin’s car on the driver side matched the characteristics of Thompson’s fingerprints.
A twist in the trial came Wednesday when Trial, 22, now a Maine State Prison inmate, gave a different story than he had given earlier to police. His testimony also contradicted testimony given by Turcotte, Olsen and Steward.
On Wednesday, Trial testified that it was he who had suggested robbing Fortin. Asked on the stand if he stabbed Fortin, Trial replied, “Apparently.”
“If he was stabbed, I was the one who did it,” he said.
Trial and Olsen had pleaded guilty to participation in the robbery of Fortin and were sentenced to 20 years and four years, respectively. Olsen recently completed her sentence.
Thompson, who took the stand Wednesday, testified that it was Trial who suggested “rolling” Fortin, that it was Trial who had the knife, and that it was Trial who stabbed the man.
In closing arguments Thursday morning, Benson told jurors to take the testimony of Trial and Thompson with “a very, very large grain of salt.” He said it was amazing that Trial had such a change of heart since being incarcerated at the Maine State Prison.
“He seems to have had a jail house conversion,” said the prosecutor. Benson said it was reasonable to infer that Trial was scared of Thompson.
Taking the line of commentator Paul Harvey, Thistle told the jury in his summation, “And now you’ll hear the rest of the story.” The defense attorney suggested that Trial gave police an inaccurate accounting of the events on Oct. 4. He was under arrest, was charged with a serious criminal offense and had refused to sign his statement.
“Is it any wonder he may not have been telling the absolute truth on Oct. 7, 1994?” he asked.
Thistle told jurors that Thompson, who is now legally blind, had not worn his glasses the night of Oct. 4, intimating that the defendant wouldn’t have been able to commit the crime.
Thompson’s attorney also reminded jurors that police did not take any fingerprints from a tire jack, a tire that showed traces of blood, Fortin’s suitcase, which had been ransacked, nor from the knife that was used in the attack and retrieved from the Kennebec River. They also choose not to match two latent fingerprints lifted from Fortin’s car to anyone else but Thompson, nor attempted to match a footprint cast, Thistle pointed out.
“They could have tried [to test] and they didn’t,” he said.
“The same evidence that proves guilt is the same evidence that exonerates guilt,” Thistle said.