Published Date Written by Marge NiblockA combative Ernest Weidul, convicted of manslaughter in the 2010 beating death of Roger Downs Jr. in Portland, lashed out at police and prosecutors during his sentencing hearing in Cumberland County Court Tuesday. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The maximum sentence was set at 20 years, with all but 16 suspended, and four years of probation. During that time, Weidul will not be allowed to have weapons or alcohol and should have mental health treatment, if recommended at that time.
On May 30, after four hours of deliberation over a two-day period, a Cumberland County jury found the 53-year-old Weidul guilty of all charges brought against him: manslaughter; aggravated assault; and operating after suspension.
The case began on May 5, 2010, with a beating culminating in the death of Downs.
"This was a savage beating. I think it was virtually a one-sided event," said Justice Joyce Wheeler.
"We have a jury's verdict," she continued, "that Mr. Weidul caused the death of Roger Downs. I don't find coparticipation on the part of Mr. Downs. Mr. Downs's death resulted from a senseless violent act." She then said she felt the sentence should be somewhere in the upper range, but not at the upper quadrant.
The judge discussed Weidul's extensive criminal history, which includes violence, and said she felt he is a "threat to public safety," mentioning the issues of his "alcoholism and mental health."
When Weidul was permitted to speak he accused Deputy Attorney General William Stokes of "prosecutorial misconduct," alleged that the testimony of the state's prime witness, Dr. Margaret Greenwald was "perjured," criticized Mercy Hospital for "hiding and concealing documents," and cast aspersions on the police, saying, "They did a horrible job with their investigation."
Justice Wheeler responded by saying, "You made that argument before. I must respectfully disagree with your conclusion based on the records I saw."
Weidul then said, "I've been railroaded."
Justice Wheeler reminded the defendant, "We are here today for sentencing, so please be seated."
When Weidul began to verbally assail Stokes from his seat, Justice Wheeler calmed him by saying, "I'm sure you don't want to be removed from the courtroom."
Roger Downs's daughter Carly spoke to the court and said of her father's death, "I literally broke inside when I got the news. ... I had to go to a gravesite to be with him on Father's Day." She had a tiny urn with her that she held up for the judge to see, saying, "That's him — in the urn."
Vicki Legere, the sister of Roger Downs, compared his death to Sept. 11. She showed a framed photo of an "intertwined family," and said, "We continue to sift through the rubble and slowly put the pieces back. But we are changed forever." She said her brother was "a good man with an enormous heart."
A female cousin said this tragedy has taken away the family's trust in human nature.
Defense attorney Thomas Connolly referenced the family's pain but said, "That is not a driving force in the sentencing process." He stressed that there were two "coparticipants in the drinking binge," and mentioned "provocation," saying, "The decedent has some responsibility."
When Stokes was called on to speak, he referred to the severity of the beating that took place, calling it "ferocious." He discussed the aggravating factors in feeling that this type of manslaughter should be at a very high range, saying, "Mr. Weidul could have left."
Stokes also discussed the defendant's extensive criminal record history from 1978, saying, "From that time he was basically violating the law." Another aggravating factor mentioned by Stokes was "I don't think we've seen true remorse."
Connolly, one of three lawyers representing Weidul in the manslaughter trial for the death of Downs, said the sentencing range should be in the lower range of manslaughter, the lower quadrant.
Stokes recommended a maximum sentence of 25 years with all but 18 suspended, followed by four years of probation.
Outside the courtroom, when asked to comment on Justice Wheeler's sentence, Stokes said, "It is a very fair sentence. It was very well-thought-out sentence for this particular crime."