AUGUSTA — Lance A. DiPietro, an uncle of missing toddler Ayla Reynolds, of Waterville, was convicted Thursday of an assault that occurred in February and was apparently related to allegations that the toddler’s father, his brother, was involved in her disappearance.

The victim, Justin Linnell, then 22, of Waterville, who has a child with DiPietro’s sister Elisha, suffered a cut forehead in the assault.

Lance DiPietro, 27, of Waterville, pleaded no contest to the charge and was automatically found guilty by Justice Donald Marden in Kennebec County Superior Court. Marden imposed a $300 fine, which was the sentence negotiated between the prosecutor and defense attorney David Geller.

Linnell had wanted DiPietro to serve jail time, Assistant District Attorney James Mitchell Jr., told the judge.

Both attorneys agreed that the altercation was a result of bad blood between the DiPietros and Linnell.

Mitchell also asked for restitution up to $700 for medical bills which Linnell would submit, but the judge did not order restitution.

Mitchell said DiPietro admitted striking and knocking down Linnell as well as kicking him in the head.

He said it was self-defense. 

Linnell told the judge he had received a phone call and text messages earlier that day, Feb. 6, which he believed came from Lance DiPietro or Ayla’s father, Justin DiPietro, asking to meet with him. At the time, he was involved in a custody dispute over his daughter whose mother is Lance and Justin DiPietro’s sister, Elisha.

“I got calls from Justin that day,” Linnell told the judge. “Then I got texts. I refused to fight him twice. Him and his brother pretty much hunted me down. I didn’t see them coming until they stepped out of acar.”

The Waterville police report said Justin DiPietro did not leave the car, and he was not charged.
Linnell said Lance DiPietro had a wooden mini-bat, but dropped it before the assault began in a parking lot on College Avenue in Waterville.

“I told him to leave me alone,” Linnell said, adding that he feared any trouble would jeopardize his chances of having contact with his daughter. A protection from abuse order banned Linnell from seeing her, according to court records.

Linnell said he had Lance DiPietro in a headlock when “he picked me up and slammed me to the ground.”

Linnell said the assault stopped after he was kicked in the head. Linnell called police to report the attack and refused medical treatment at the time.

Linnell said the dispute was based on a mix of things, including his relationship with Elisha DiPietro and his comments about the disappearance of Ayla Reynolds, Justin DiPietro’s daughter.

Lance DiPietro’s attorney, David Geller, said Linnell had posted a comment on Facebook indicating he believed Justin DiPietro had something to do with Ayla’s disappearance from her father’s home on Dec. 17.

“That will have a very emotional effect on a father who has consistently said, ‘I had nothing to do with Ayla’s disappearance,’” Geller said. “I don’t think Mr. Linnell was trying to instigate that family, but that’s what happened.”

Despite intensive searches by police and others, and the discovery of some of Ayla Reynold’s blood in the basement, the whereabouts of the toddler has not been determined. Police have said they don’t believe she’s still alive.

Lance DiPietro said little in court on Thursday.

“I believe the state could show my client made a very poor choice getting out of the car and confronting Linnell,” Geller said.

Marden told DiPietro, “This is your brother, and I appreciate the emotional attachment, but you should not be an enforcer for your brother.”

The judge warned him another incident could result in a long jail sentence.

Lance DiPietro’s previous criminal record includes a 2002 juvenile burglary conviction, a 2003 theft, 2005 and 2006 convictions for furnishing alcohol to minors and violating conditions of release, and a 2007 violating condition of release, Mitchell said. 

Betty Adams — 621-5631
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