The basic facts of what happened outside Rory Holland’s house in Biddeford around 1 a.m. on June 30, 2009, are not in dispute.

Two brothers, 21-year-old Derek Greene and 19-year-old Gage Greene, were walking past Holland’s house on South Street when the younger brother exchanged words with him. Witnesses say the confrontation turned physical as Gage Greene shoved Holland.

Holland pulled a handgun from his waistband and shot Gage Greene in the chest. Then Holland shot Derek Greene twice, in the chest and the abdomen, as he ran toward the spot where his younger brother had fallen.

As Holland’s murder trial gets under way today in Bangor, the central question facing jurors is not whether the 56-year-old man fired the fatal shots, but whether he had legal justification for doing so.

The prosecutors, Assistant Attorneys General Lisa Marchese and Leane Zainea, will argue that Holland had no such justification. Their position is that he knowingly and intentionally murdered the Greene brothers. If convicted, Holland would be sentenced to a minimum of 25 years, and a maximum of life in prison.

Holland’s lawyers, Clifford Strike and Amanda Doherty, are expected to argue that their client acted in self-defense, based on the circumstances immediately preceding the shooting, as well as on previous run-ins between Holland and the brothers.

The trial, expected to last two weeks, was relocated from York County Superior Court in Alfred to the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor at the request of Holland’s attorneys, who argued that he could not get a fair trial in southern Maine.

Strike, of the Portland firm Strike, Goodwin & O’Brien, said there are a few pretrial motions that will need to be dealt with, but he expected opening arguments to proceed as scheduled. Strike declined to comment on his defense strategy or the facts of the case.

“It would be inappropriate to comment on the case with an impaneled jury,” he said.

In prior interviews, and during a bail hearing last year, Strike indicated that Holland may have acted in self-defense and that he had reason to fear Derek and Gage Green.

“It is clear that there is more to this case than meets the eye, and, in fact, Mr. Holland may have had justification for the actions he took the other night,” Strike said in a July 8, 2009, interview.

One prior confrontation between Holland and Derek Greene happened on May 12, 2009, about seven weeks before the shooting.

Greene and a friend of his were arrested for allegedly assaulting Holland, and as part of his bail conditions, Greene was ordered to have no contact with Holland. At the time, Greene claimed Holland had touched him inappropriately.

Marchese, the lead prosecutor, did not respond to calls seeking comment last week.

William Stokes, head of the criminal division at the state Attorney General’s Office, said one of the challenges for the state will be the transportation of witnesses from Biddeford and other locations in York County to the courthouse in Bangor. Often in trials it is hard to predict exactly when witnesses will be needed to testify.

“It’s a logistical issue. It is an inconvenience to the witnesses, but we just deal with it,” Stokes said. “It is not that unusual for us.”

Holland, who has been held at the York County Jail since the shootings, moved to Maine in 1988 and to Biddeford around 1994.

He has twice run for mayor and has been a lightning rod of controversy in the city. Holland became a well-known figure at municipal meetings and at District Court, where he often gave advice to defendants.

He has been involved as a plaintiff and as a defendant in several lawsuits, including a complaint he filed against the City of Biddeford for allegedly discriminating against him on the basis of his race.

Holland, who is black, claimed the city wanted to force him out of town, and he cited about 50 interactions between himself and police officers and other city employees. The city ultimately prevailed in that lawsuit after a bench trial in 2006.

Holland has a criminal history as well. His most serious conviction was for attempted murder, aggravated assault and simple battery against his 16-month-old daughter in the late 1970s, when Holland lived in Kansas. He denied the charges.

Two months before the Greene brothers were killed, Holland was charged with terrorizing for allegedly threatening Eric Cote, a lawyer who was representing Holland in a dispute with an ex-girlfriend. That case has not been resolved.

Holland also has been in the public spotlight as a victim of racism.

On Halloween day in 1999, at a time when Holland was running for mayor, people spray-painted racist graffiti on his fence.

That same afternoon, a Biddeford coffee shop owner, Robert Kalex, and his girlfriend walked past Holland’s house wearing white Ku Klux Klan-style costumes and carrying signs protesting his bid for mayor. Kalex described it as a Halloween prank that showed poor judgment.

In the wake of that incident, the state Attorney General’s Office imposed a permanent no-contact order against Kalex, but he was not criminally charged.

Confrontations between Kalex and Holland continued. In 2000, while testifying against Kalex in a dog complaint, Holland said Kalex had used racial slurs against him and said, “You never know when the sheets and baseball bats will come back.”

Police arrested Kalex a few days later, alleging he drove slowly by Holland’s house and threatened to kill him. Kalex was convicted of terrorizing and was sentenced to four months in jail, but his conviction was thrown out by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that Kalex should have been allowed to call witnesses to challenge Holland’s credibility.

Kalex was retried in 2002, but the jury acquitted him on the terrorizing charge. In 2005, Kalex was ordered to serve 135 days in jail for violating his no-contact order by taunting Holland inside a convenience store.

 

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: [email protected]