PORTLAND – A city man accused of fatally stabbing an acquaintance last year in Parkside pleaded guilty to murder Wednesday in Cumberland County Superior Court.

Shawn Garland, 26, faces a maximum sentence of 35 years under a plea agreement reached by the prosecutor and Garland’s court-appointed lawyer. Murder carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 25 years and a maximum of life in prison. Garland is scheduled to be sentenced in January.

Police said Garland used a knife to attack 58-year-old Richard Meyers of Portland, whom they described as an acquaintance, at Garland’s Grant Street apartment on Aug. 12, 2010.

Acquaintances of Garland have said he was well-known around the city’s homeless shelter, could be confrontational and sometimes went by the nickname “Schizo Shawn.”

His lawyer, J.P. DeGrinney, said his client has “major mental health issues.” DeGrinney said previously that Garland had been hospitalized for long periods of time.

In addition to Garland’s mental health problems, self-defense would have been an argument if the case had gone to trial, DeGrinney said. He said Meyers had a history of abusing Garland and that both men were drunk when the stabbing occurred, but Meyers was more intoxicated than Garland.

DeGrinney said Garland would have had a lot to say had the case gone to trial, but the defendant made the decision to plead guilty.

“There’s a very clear line between being someone’s advocate and running their lives improperly,” DeGrinney said. “Lawyers are not supposed to make decisions about pleading or not pleading.”

Garland’s trial had been scheduled to begin Dec. 5.

As good as the defense attorney may have thought his chances would have been at trial, it’s never clear what will happen as the evidence unfolds, said Deputy Attorney General William Stokes.

“It’s a plea agreement where both sides try to minimize the risks that they might face. He, if he goes to trial, might get more than 35 years. From our perspective, he might get manslaughter instead of murder,” said Stokes, who heads the criminal division.

The lesser charge of manslaughter is automatically considered if a defendant is acquitted of murder in a trial. A murder conviction requires a finding that a person killed knowingly or intentionally, while a manslaughter conviction requires reckless or criminally negligent action. Manslaughter has a maximum sentence of 30 years.

Stokes said the case was not a “whodunit.” He said the factors at trial would have included Garland’s mental condition and his state of mind. It wasn’t clear whether the defense was going to claim self-defense because the statements about that had been fluctuating over time, he said.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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