Someone probably will urge Superior Court Justice Robert Murray to sentence Jessica Trefethen to life in prison for the murder of her 3½-year-old son Maddox Williams.
A jury of eight men and four women deliberated for about an hour Tuesday before finding Trefethen guilty of murder after five days of testimony at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast. The mother of six denied abusing her children.
Maine Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Liam Funte testified that Maddox died of battered child syndrome, with the fatal injuries being damage to the pancreas and the boy’s ruptured bowel. Those injuries were inflicted a few hours before he died, he said.
Jurors rejected the defense’s argument that the boy sustained his fatal injuries in a fall from a trampoline or roughhousing with his older siblings.
Based on sentences imposed in other cases where parents have been convicted of killing children as well as Maine law, the judge is unlikely to send Trefethen, 36, of Stockton Springs to prison for life. A sentence of between 45 and 55 years is more likely, which could be a de facto life sentence given her age.
In a similar case, Murray sentenced Sharon Kennedy, 37, of Stockton Springs to 48 years. She was convicted of murder in the Feb. 25, 2018, death of her 10-year-old daughter, Marissa Kennedy, in Stockton Springs. The prosecution recommended a life sentence while the defense urged the judge to impose a 25-year sentence.
Sharon Kennedy’s ex-husband Julio Carrillo, 56, of Stockton Springs was sentenced to 55 years in prison after pleading guilty to murder for his role in his step-daughter’s beating death. Prosecutors sought a life sentence while the defense argued for a sentence of 35 to 40 years.
In a separate case, Superior Court Justice William Stokes sentenced Shawna Gatto, 48, of Wiscassett to 50 years in prison for the murder of 4-year-old Kendall Chick. The girl died on Dec. 8, 2017, of injuries similar to the ones inflicted on Maddox, including a traumatic injury to her abdomen. The prosecution recommended a sentence of 65 years while the defense argued for a 30-year-sentence.
If they earn the maximum amount of time off their sentences for good behavior without major infractions of prison rules at the Maine Correctional Institute in Windham, Kennedy would be nearly 75 when eligible for release and Gatto would be 86.
Prisoners die younger on average than other Americans. One study has shown that for every year inmates spend incarcerated, they live two years less than if they had never been imprisoned.
The penalty for murder in Maine is 25 years to life in prison but life sentences can only be imposed in certain circumstances, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled. Those include premeditation; murder accompanied by torture, sexual abuse or other extreme cruelty; murder committed in a penal institution by an inmate; multiple victims; murder of a hostage; a previous murder conviction; or the murder of an on-duty law enforcement officer.
In deciding on a sentence, judges are required to balance aggravating factors that could lengthen a sentence against mitigating factors that could shorten it.
An aggravating factor could be a defendant’s criminal history, lack of remorse, a refusal to take responsibility for the crime or the way the crime was committed.
Mitigating factors include the lack of a criminal history, a criminal’s expression of sincere remorse, a willingness to take responsibility by pleading guilty, a criminal assisting police in charging possible co-defendants, support from the criminal’s family members, the likelihood of rehabilitation and the defendant’s age.
Not many parents charged with in murder in connection with the death of a child are convicted of murder. Prosecutors often offer plea deals to avoid going to trial. Last month, Hillary Goding, 29, Old Town pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a recommendation that she be sentenced to 25 to 28 years in prison with all but 17 to 22 years suspended, followed by six years of probation. A murder charge will be dismissed after her sentencing, which has not been set.
Once Goding’s sentence is imposed, there will be six defendants charged with murder and/or manslaughter in connection with the slayings of children awaiting trial in Maine.
Defendants whose trial have been set include: Ronald Harding, 38, of Brewer charged in the June 1, 2021, death of his son, 6-week-old son Jaden Harding, is scheduled to be tried in January; Lee Daigle, 58, of Lowell, Massachusetts, charged in the Dec. 6, 1985, death of her newborn daughter is scheduled to be tried in February; and Trevor Averill, 28, of Buckfield charged in the July 20, 2022, death of his 2-month-old daughter, Harper Averill, is scheduled to be tried in March.
The following defendants’ trials have not been scheduled: Reginald Melvin, 29, of Milo charged in the Aug. 29, 2021, death of his 6-month-old son, Sylvus Melvin; Mariah B. Dobbins, 29, of Easton charged in the March 19, 2022, death of her 14-month-old son Jaden Raymond; and Andrew Huber-Young, 19, of Wells charged in the May 21, 2022, death of his 2-year-old daughter, Octavia Huber-Young.