Aug 29 – The state drops a murder charge against a Limington man whose conviction was overturned and sent for retrial last fall by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Bruce Akers, 64, was charged in June 2016 with killing a neighbor, Douglas Flint. A jury found Akers guilty in January 2020, and he was sentenced to 38 years in state prison.
But last September, the state supreme court ruled that the judge who oversaw Akers’ trial was wrong to allow jurors to hear statements Akers made to police before being read his Miranda rights. Then, earlier this month, as he prepared for Akers’ second trial, Superior Court Judge Wayne Douglas further ruled that those statements had tainted other crucial evidence found through a search warrant on Akers’ property at next day, which York County Sheriff’s officers secured using the unconstitutionally obtained statements.
“Because of the evidence suppression rulings, the state lacks sufficient evidence to proceed to trial,” the state’s motion says.
Douglas already agreed this month to let Akers await trial from his home after six years in the York County jail and state prison. Deputy Attorney General Bud Ellis did not oppose the motion, and Akers was released on personal recognizance.
The York County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case after Flint’s family members reported him missing in June 2016. Officers proved they originally believed the 55-year-old Flint was suicidal and at risk of death. hurting.
Officers visited the Flint property and then the Akers home next door multiple times in hopes of speaking with Akers. They eventually found him after midnight in a sleeping bag on the floor of his mobile home, which they were investigating after lifting a window covering and turning on a light inside. It was at this point that Akers told officers, before being read his Miranda rights, that Flint was no longer alive and made other statements that investigators used to obtain a search warrant for the property.
Through that search warrant, investigators found Flint’s body under a pile of deerskins and debris the next day.
Before his first trial, Akers filed a motion to suppress statements he made to officers the night before they obtained the search warrant. Douglas, the superior court judge, denied that motion in May 2019, writing that the illegal searches were reasonable because officers were searching for a missing person.
The state supreme court disagreed. After the judges unanimously ruled that the illegal search was “certainly intentional” and could not be excused, Douglas had to decide whether the evidence the state obtained after obtaining the search warrant, including the location of Flint’s body and the alleged murder weapon, a machete, could still be considered in a new trial.
The Maine Attorney General’s Office called officers during a hearing in early June, trying to prove that police would inevitably have found Flint’s body even without the search warrant. Sergeant Steven Thistlewood, one of the officers who worked for the sheriff’s office in 2016, proved that the office’s policies for locating a missing person could have triggered a K-9 search that would have led investigators to Flint’s body. .
Douglas said in his ruling that the search for K-9 was too hypothetical and based on the officers’ actions from 2016, there was no strong argument that they would inevitably have found Flint’s body.
“While his speculation was credible,” Douglas wrote, referring to Thistlewood’s testimony, “he was also unspecific as to timing and details, and leaves much to speculation.”
Kristine Hanly, Akers’ defense attorney, said Monday that she hopes the state’s removal will deter future constitutional violations by law enforcement.
She said suppression hearings, where attorneys ask that certain evidence be excluded from trial, are a way to hold police accountable for violating the public’s rights and can deter them from taking action that could harm the state’s ability to prosecute a criminal case. case.
“People say this hasn’t happened before, or it very rarely happens in a homicide case,” Hanly said of Monday’s firing. “But violations of constitutional rights happen all the time. Our citizens interact with law enforcement every day. Every interaction has that potential.”
Danna Hayes, a spokeswoman for the Maine Attorney General’s Office, said in a statement Monday that prosecutors “remain confident in the evidence that resulted in a guilty verdict.” Hayes declined to address the role of law enforcement in the Akers case and the impact his illegal search of Akers’ property had on the state’s inability to hold a trial.
York County Sheriff William King Jr. did not respond to a phone call about his office’s involvement in the Akers case Monday afternoon.
Aside from Akers, the Maine Supreme Court has only vacated and prosecuted two other murder cases in the past 20 years. In both cases, the defendant was convicted at the second trial.
In 2020, the court overturned a murder conviction of Marcus Asante, a Massachusetts man who was charged with a drug-related murder in 2016. Asante said he shot Douglas Morin Jr. of Oakfield in self-defense. The court found that the judge erred in instructing jurors on all elements of the robbery, and that led to an error in the instruction on self-defense on the murder charge.
Asante was convicted a second time and sentenced again to 35 years in state prison in December.
The last time the court overturned a murder conviction was in 2004, when Brandon Thongsavanh won a new trial for the fatal stabbing of a student at Bates College in Lewiston. The judges ruled that a reference to a profane T-shirt Thongsavanh was wearing on the night of the murder may have prejudiced the jury.
He was convicted a second time and received the same sentence, 58 years in prison, for the death of Morgan McDuffee, the captain of the school’s lacrosse team.