State v. Leng, 011421 MESC, SRP-20-13

Docket Nº:SRP-20-13
Opinion Judge:CONNORS, J.
Party Name:STATE OF MAINE v. ANTHONYS. LENG
Attorney:James R. Gioia, Esq., Fairfield & Associates, PA, Portland, and Peter J. Cyr, Esq. (orally), Law Offices of Peter J. Cyr, Portland, for appellant Anthony S. Leng Aaron M. Frey, Attorney General, and Donald W. Macomber, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appell...
Judge Panel:Panel: MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HUMPHREY, and CONNORS, JJ.
Case Date:January 14, 2021
Court:Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

2021 ME 3

STATE OF MAINE

v.

ANTHONYS. LENG

No. SRP-20-13

Supreme Court of Maine

January 14, 2021

Argued: November 18, 2020

James R. Gioia, Esq., Fairfield & Associates, PA, Portland, and Peter J. Cyr, Esq. (orally), Law Offices of Peter J. Cyr, Portland, for appellant Anthony S. Leng

Aaron M. Frey, Attorney General, and Donald W. Macomber, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine

Panel: MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HUMPHREY, and CONNORS, JJ.

CONNORS, J.

[¶1] Anthony S. Leng appeals from his sentence after pleading guilty to the intentional and knowing murder of his wife. See 17-A M.R.S. § 201(1)(A) (2020). He argues that the sentencing court (Cumberland County, Horton, J.) misapplied the first step of the sentencing analysis required by statute, see 17-A M.R.S. § 1252-C (2018), 1 by not adequately comparing the circumstances of his crime to the circumstances of other defendants who had committed similar murders. We affirm Leng's sentence.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] The following undisputed facts are drawn from the State's summary of the evidence that it would have presented had the matter proceeded to trial. See State v. Lord, 2019 ME 82, ¶ 3, 208 A.3d 781; M.R.U. Crim. P. 11(b)(3), (e).

[¶3] On January 7, 2018, shortly before 10:00 p.m., Leng and his wife arrived home after watching a football game at a friend's house. Their ten- and fifteen-year-old sons were already home. Almost immediately after Leng and his wife entered the kitchen, their younger son, who was in the living room, heard a single gunshot followed by more gunshots. He heard his mother say "ah," believed he heard her fall to the floor, and heard his father crying. He also smelled the odor of gun powder. The younger son went into the kitchen where he saw his father standing by the refrigerator. He then saw his mother lying on the floor next to blood and a gun, and he screamed.

[¶4] The older son, who was upstairs getting ready to take a shower, heard his parents arrive home and then almost immediately heard a gunshot, a pause, and then more gunshots. He ran downstairs where he saw his brother in the living room with his head buried in the couch. The older son asked his father what he had done, to which Leng replied, "I just killed your mother." The older son picked up his brother and ran outside. Once outside, the older son went to the door that led into the kitchen and looked through the window. He saw his mother lying on her stomach on the floor with her empty hands by her side and his father's gun on the floor near his mother. The older son called 9-1-1 and told the operator that his father had killed his mother and that he and his brother were hiding outside. He stayed on the line until police arrived, at which time both children ran barefoot to the police.

[¶5] After shooting his wife, Leng also called 9-1-1. He provided the address but answered no further questions and made wailing sounds. From the time the first 9-1-1 call was placed until his surrender to police, Leng remained alone in the house for fifteen minutes.

[¶6] When police entered the home, they found the victim lying on her right side on the kitchen floor. Her purse was still on her arm, and her keys were under her body. The victim had a knife in her right hand and eight other knives grouped around her head and on top of her hair. When the police found the handgun on the floor near the victim, the slide was in a locked back position, indicating that all of the ammunition in the gun had been spent, and a manually-activated red dot laser was in the on position. The police collected ten casings and ten bullets or bullet fragments, and they discovered multiple bullet holes less than six inches above the floor in the cabinet door next to the victim's head. Shards from the cabinet door were found on the victim's hair and coat.

[¶7] The victim's autopsy revealed that she had died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds to her head and neck. Of significance, the medical examiner determined that one of the six shots that struck the victim had entered the right side of her face, which was the side facing the floor when police arrived and was the only wound that travelled in a "slightly right to left and downward" path. Based on the medical examiner's report, witnesses' reports of a pause between gunshots, and the physical evidence at the scene, police determined that the victim was first shot when she was in an upright position and then shot several more times after she had collapsed to the floor.

[¶8] On January 16, 2018, the State filed a complaint charging Leng with murdering his wife, to which he pleaded not guilty. In February 2018, Leng was indicted by the grand jury on one count of intentional and knowing murder, 17-AM.R.S. §201(1)(A).

[¶9] In September 2019, after the State agreed to recommend a sentence not to exceed forty years in prison, Leng changed his plea to guilty. After following the procedure prescribed in M.R.U. Crim. P. 11(b)-(e), the court accepted Leng's guilty plea.2

[¶10] The court held a sentencing hearing three months later. It considered the parties' oral arguments; the parties' written memoranda, which referenced sentences in seven other cases that either the State or Leng, or both, deemed comparable; a statement from Leng accepting responsibility for the murder and apologizing to his children; and several victim impact statements.3

[¶11] With respect to the basic sentence, the parties differed markedly in their recommendations. The State urged a basic sentence of sixty years' imprisonment, arguing that the presence of children during the murder would justify the imposition of a life sentence; Leng committed the "ultimate act of domestic violence" after years of threatening to kill the victim, just as she was preparing to leave him; and his staging of the crime scene to create the appearance that the victim was responsible for her own murder was particularly "cruel and callous." In contrast, Leng urged the court to set the basic sentence at thirty-five years' imprisonment, citing several comparable cases and arguing that "[t]his was not a life sentence case." The State and Leng recommended final sentences of forty years and thirty years, respectively.

[¶12] In pronouncing its sentence, the court began with the purposes of sentencing, drawing special attention to the goals of eliminating inequalities in sentencing by considering sentences imposed in similar cases, encouraging individualization of sentencing, and recognizing "domestic violence as a serious crime." 17-A M.R.S. § 1151 (2018).4 The court also acknowledged that the minimum mandatory sentence for murder is twenty-five years' imprisonment and that the maximum sentence is life imprisonment, which, the court noted, could have been imposed here where the crime was the murder of a parent in the presence of that parent's children.

[¶13] After these...

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