State v. Eaton

CourtSupreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
Writing for the CourtBefore DUFRESNE; DUFRESNE; WEBBER
Citation309 A.2d 334
PartiesSTATE of Maine v. David M. EATON.
Decision Date11 September 1973

Page 334

309 A.2d 334
STATE of Maine
David M. EATON.
Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.
Sept. 11, 1973.

Page 335

David W. Kee, County Atty., Samuel Nesbitt, Jr., Asst. County Atty., Ellsworth, for plaintiff.

Hale & Hamlin by Barry K. Mills, Blue Hill, for defendant.


DUFRESNE, Chief Justice.

The defendant, David M. Eaton, at the September term of the Superior Court in and for the County of Hancock was charged by indictment dated September 2, 1971 with the crime of assault with a dangerous weapon with intent to kill one James D. Haines under 17 M.R.S.A. § 2656. 1 Tried by jury, he was convicted of the offense charged and on October 1, 1971 the presiding Justice sentenced him to serve a term of not less than ten years and not more than twenty years in Maine State Prison. Eaton appeals from this conviction. We deny the appeal.

(The Legislature in 1971, by Public Laws, 1971, c. 539, § 16 increased the penalties for the crime of assault with intent to murder or kill, if armed with a dangerous weapon, to a minimum of 2 years and a maximum of 25 years in Maine State Prison. It also provided that the imposition or execution of such sentence shall not be suspended and probation shall not be granted. This change in the law became effective on September 23, 1971 after the reference crime in the instant case was committed.)

James D. Haines was in his third year of medical school at the University of Michigan. He left Ann Arbor, Michigan on a vacation trip with his wife, Sherri, intending to visit the State of Maine. They left Boston, Massachusetts in the late

Page 336

morning or early afternoon of July 17, 1971. Mrs. Haines testified:

'We had never been to Maine before, and we didn't have any place to go, but were very interested in Maine. We just looked at the map, and pinpointed a stop and said that looks like a good place to go for a rest, so we decided to go there.'

That spot in Maine fingered on that map was Stonington, where events stranger than fiction were about to happen which, unknown to the Haines, would change the scenario from the restful atmosphere of a small town in the wilds of Maine to the most frantic scene of an ancient wild-west movie.

Indeed, in the evening of July 17, 1971 the defendant was attending a dance in Stonington. He had been brought up in that town and his family lived there. It was to be expected that, following his service of a minimum sentence in Maine State Prison, he would return to the place of his childhood, which he did some few weeks previously when he was released on parole from that institution.

Eaton was drinking that evening, contrary to the terms of his parole. Aggressive and cantankerous, he got himself involved in a fight with another man at the dance.

Eaton had been in trouble in the past because of liquor. At the time of his previous sentence to prison, his relationship with one Starr Dorr had become strained because of his excessive drinking and the bond of affection which had marked their prior acquaintance had reached the breaking point. The dissolution was formalized when Miss Dorr dispatched a letter from Stonington to the prison informing the appellant she would not see him again. Eaton did not take this rejection seriously and his feelings for Miss Dorr intensified during the remainder of his prison term, so much so that at the time of his release on parole he harbored the though that he could convince her to renew their former relationship.

However, in the meantime Miss Dorr had been actively engaged in a new friendship, and, in the evening of July 17, 1971 her fiance was at her mother's house on Indian Point Road in Stonington where she and many friends were attending a party. Eaton knew this and, following his alteraction at the dance, decided that he better have a talk with Starr Dorr.

After breaking into a local store to arm himself with a 30-30 rifle and several boxes of ammunition, he visited the trailer home of Mrs. Arlene Jones, from which point in the town he telephoned the Haskell residence. He reached Mrs. Haskell, Miss Dorr's mother, and, in the presence of Mrs. Jones and one Norman Joyce, Eaton's closest friends, he made threats over the phone to Mrs. Haskell and Miss Dorr. The clock was about to strike 12:00 o'clock midnight when Eaton made these threats. They were admitted in evidence, over objection, and their contents were described as follows:

'I've got a 30-30 here.'-'He said that he had a 30-30 and he was going to blow the house apart.'-'He said (to Miss Dorr) I have a 30-30, are you going for a walk?'

Dropping the telephone, Eaton left the Jones' home for the Haskell residence, which fronted on Indian Point Road. Jerome Shepard, a guest at the party, was the first one to encounter the appellant, who pointed the end of the barrel of the gun at his head while ordering him to 'go in and get Starr.' When Shepard grabbed the gun, he was warned: 'Don't frig with my gun, boy. I'd just as soon shoot you as look at you (and) if you don't go in and get Starr and get her out here, i'm going to clean up house.'

Edgar Ray, another guest, came out later to talk to Eaton, but he was rebuked in the same manner. Pointing the rifle at Ray's stomach, Eaton told Ray that he should go in and get Starr and send her out or that he'd start shooting.

Page 337

Ronald Hutchinson, a guest at the Haskell residence, who wanted to talk Eaton out of his treatening mood, was told to keep his distance, that he had come far enough. Stopping some 10 feet away from the rifle pointed at his stomach, Hutchinson, who had known Eaton in the past, heard him blurt out that he loved Starr Dorr, that she was tearing his heart apart, that he wanted to talk with her first, but then...

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    ...admissibility is precluded by some specific rule of exclusion. State v. Fitzherbert, 1969, Me., 249 A.2d 760; State v. Eaton, 1973, Me., 309 A.2d 334. Evidence offered only to prove a merely collateral fact becomes relevant and admissible, if it tends to either add probability or improbabil......
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