BANGOR – James Hicks reportedly has admitted to investigators that he most likely would kill again if given the chance.
On Monday, Chief Superior Court Justice Andrew Mead made sure that Hicks would never have the opportunity.
Eighteen years after he suffocated Jerilyn Towers, 34, of Newport and four years after killing Lynn Willette, 40, of Orrington, Hicks, 49, was sentenced to two life sentences to be served concurrently.
Security at the Penobscot County Superior Courthouse was extraordinarily tight because of threats that have been made on Hicks’ life.
Unlike many other states, Maine has no parole, and thus a life sentence is an actual life sentence.
“It means that this person must be shut off from humankind until he dies in our prison system,” Assistant Attorney General William Stokes said during his presentation to the court. “It’s very serious and not something to be taken lightly.
“I don’t recommend life sentences very often. … But if ever a case warranted a life sentence, this is it,” he said.
After listening to presentations from lawyers and tearful speeches from family members, reading pages of victim-impact statements and listening to a brief statement Hicks made through his lawyer, Mead took no time in accepting Stokes’ recommendation and sending the self-confessed serial killer to prison for the rest of his life.
Hicks’ attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor, said there were no plans to appeal the sentence.
Though Hicks was sentenced for the murders of Willette and Towers, the family of his first victim -Jennie Cyr Hicks, 23, who was married to Hicks at the time of her death in 1977 – was present Monday, sitting in the front row of the courtroom.
Hicks was convicted of killing Jennie Hicks in 1984 but served only six years in prison. Her body was recovered last October when Hicks revealed the whereabouts of the remains of all three women.
Jennie Hicks and Towers were found buried in the back yard of his former homestead along Route 2 in Etna, and Willette’s remains were found in a roadside site just south of Houlton.
All three women had been strangled and dismembered.
On Monday, Hicks appeared relaxed, wearing black jeans and a gray windbreaker. He smiled and whispered to his lawyer as people spoke to the court about the impact he had had on their lives.
Hicks leaned forward on the defense table, resting his head on his right hand, as Stokes told the court why Hicks should be sent away to prison for life.
During the sentencing process, judges must consider several factors, including the brutality of the murder and the defendant’s criminal history. The judge also must weigh aggravating and mitigating factors.
Stokes said that the court could consider Hicks’ decision to plead guilty to the murders and lead police to the remains of the three women as a mitigating circumstance, therefore reducing the sentence.
“But, I’m not very impressed,” said Stokes. “He didn’t do this because he suddenly had a change of character or any great pangs of [conscience].
“He has done this for one reason, and that is for his own self-interest,” the prosecutor continued. “He didn’t want to spend a long number of years in a Texas prison, and that’s why we are here today.”
Hicks agreed to cooperate with Maine investigators after he was arrested in prison last April for attacking and robbing a 67-year-old woman in Lubbock, Texas, where he was living.
Hicks was facing 55 years in prison for that crime and agreed to confess to the Maine murders if he were allowed to serve Maine prison time before having to serve a Texas prison sentence.
He pleaded guilty to the crimes in Texas and is scheduled to be sentenced there on Friday, Jan. 5, for aggravated robbery. He is expected to be sentenced to 55 years in prison, but given his life sentence in Maine, he will never actually serve any of the Texas prison time.
On Monday, after hearing statements from Towers’ daughter and brother and another statement from Willette’s niece, Hicks was given the opportunity to speak to the court himself.
After a brief consultation with his lawyer, Hicks chose to let his attorney make a few remarks on his behalf.
Hicks wanted to explain that he did not come back to Maine because Maine prisons were “easier” than Texas prisons, but instead wanted to give himself, the victims’ families and his own family some “closure.”
“It was time for this to end,” Silverstein said Hicks told him.
“His main motivation was closure, not so that life would be easy for him,” the defendant’s lawyer said.
Hicks never offered an apology.
During a brief recess when Hicks was allowed to talk to his lawyer before deciding whether to make any remarks, Hicks asked to speak to Maine State Police Detective Joe Zamboni, who has investigated Hicks since Willette’s disappeared in 1996.
Despite Zamboni’s investigation, Hicks reportedly has come to like and trust the detective.
Also, Silverstein acknowledged, Hicks knows that if he doesn’t spend his life in prison, “somebody else might get hurt.”
Later, outside the courthouse, Stokes called Hicks’ remarks made through his lawyer “a bunch of baloney”
“I just don’t buy it at all. If he hadn’t gotten caught in Texas, we wouldn’t be here today,” Stokes said. “If he had this big change of heart, then he could have come forward any time.”
Tammy Price of Fairfield was 13 years old when her mother disappeared after spending an evening at the Gateway Lounge in Newport.
“I remember when we dropped her off there, my brothers begging her not to go,” Price said during a tearful statement.
When her mother never returned, Price said, she spent years thinking her mother had abandoned her.
“I spent my life trying to remember what my mother sounded like, smelled like and felt like,” she told the court.
“But my mother didn’t abandon me. You killed my mother, cut her up and discarded her like garbage. … Well, I won’t let you destroy my life, James Hicks. Today my roller-coaster ride stops and I get off, leaving you behind.”
The family of Jennie Hicks was not allowed to address the court, because Hicks was not being sentenced for her murder.
Denise Clarke, Jennie Hicks’ sister, wrote a statement telling Justice Mead about her family’s loss and Hicks’ cruelty.
“There is no sentence that will compensate for what he has done to so many people. All that we can be sure of is he is put away so he can never harm another living soul as long as he lives,” wrote Clarke.
Hicks remained Monday at Penobscot County Jail, but was expected to be transferred to the Maine State Prison in Thomaston to begin serving his sentence either Monday or Tuesday.
Hicks was ordered to pay $3,300 restitution to the Towers family for costs incurred for funeral expenses. He also was ordered to pay an undetermined amount of restitution to the state’s Victim Compensation Board, which is expected to pay for Willette’s cremation and memorial service.
The money will come from any earnings that he makes while in prison.
Officials said Monday that the FBI has expressed interest in coming to Maine to interview Hicks to try to learn more about the patterns of serial killers. Hicks reportedly has agreed to the interview, but no arrangements have been made.