ALFRED — A Biddeford landlord who pleaded guilty last week to murdering two teenagers in 2012 after an argument over snow removal was given two life sentences Thursday, one for each victim.
Before 77-year-old James Pak was sentenced, the parents and loved ones of Derrick Thompson and Alivia Welch got up one by one to tearfully detail what Pak had stolen from them.
Susan Johnson, Thompson’s mother, said she’ll never get to see her son grow or raise children of his own. His sister, Kari Henderson, said her own children don’t understand why their uncle is gone, only that they “miss him so much.”
Dan Welch, Alivia’s father, called her the “perfect daughter” who lit up every room and whose best days were ahead of her. Her mother, Jocelyne Welch, said some days her heart hurts “so much … it feels like I’m having a heart attack, like I could die of a broken heart.”
After the two-hour hearing in York County Superior Court, family members said they were satisfied with the sentence.
“It’s the best we could have hoped for,” Johnson said outside the courthouse.
Pak was taken to prison. Pending any appeals, he will remain there for the rest of his life.
‘NIGHT THAT WILL HAUNT ME’ FOR LIFE
The murders on Dec. 29, 2012, occurred after police were called to investigate a dispute between Pak and Thompson, whose mother rented an apartment owned by Pak next to his Biddeford home.
The two men argued because Pak didn’t like the way Thompson was shoveling the driveway, said prosecutor Leanne Zainea, who laid out the case before the sentencing.
Police officers responded, but determined the dispute was civil in nature. They left without taking action after they were satisfied that none of the parties involved felt threatened.
But minutes after police left, Pak went to his house, retrieved a loaded handgun and went to the apartment where Thompson, Welch, Johnson and Johnson’s younger son were inside. He opened the front door without knocking and said, “I am going to shoot you all.”
He shot Johnson first, then Thompson, then Welch. Johnson’s then-6-year-old son, Brayden, was hiding in a back bedroom.
Thompson, 19, and Welch, 18, died before paramedics arrived. Johnson was shot in the back and was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland.
“It was a night that will haunt me the rest of my life,” Johnson said through tears Thursday. “There were times when I wish I had died that night.”
Pak, a longtime Vermont resident who moved to Biddeford around 2007 to start a landscaping company, surrendered to police about three hours after the shooting.
The legal case against him lasted more than three years. Pak initially pleaded not guilty to the murder charges in March 2013, then changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. After several months of psychological evaluation by three medical experts, Pak was ruled competent to stand trial.
The trial never happened. Pak formally changed his plea to guilty last week. His attorney said Pak wanted to spare his wife and the victims’ families the pain of a trial.
DUBIOUS REMORSE, LOST FUTURES
The families of both victims have sued Pak and his wife, seeking damages. Those lawsuits were on hold pending the outcome of his criminal case.
On Thursday, Pak entered the packed courtroom dressed in an orange prison uniform and with his ankles shackled. He showed little emotion.
While family members testified, a projector displayed pictures of Thompson and Welch from their childhoods. Pak never turned his head to look at the photos.
Family members of Thompson and Welch gave emotional testimony and were united in their belief that Pak should never be allowed out of prison.
Johnson said she wished Maine allowed the death penalty. Dan Welch said Pak was “solely responsible” and that “any sentence he receives should ensure that he remain in prison until his own death.”
Others noted that Pak appeared to show no remorse for killing two people who had barely reached adulthood.
Mostly, the victims’ loved ones lamented the lives that Thompson and Welch would never get to lead.
Thompson wanted to open an auto detailing business. Welch had just finished her first semester of college and dreamed of being a nurse. They had only recently fallen in love.
Dan Welch said after the trial that he’s learned, through his daughter’s death, that nothing is certain, and he has accepted that.
“But you can’t conceive losing a child,” he said. “It’s not supposed to happen.”
Henderson said of her brother, “It kills me inside that I can’t pick up the phone because he’s not going to be on the other end. The only way I can see him is in stone.”
Thompson was buried and Welch was cremated. Before Thompson’s casket was closed and sealed, Welch’s family put some of her ashes in his hand.
Dan Welch said it wasn’t the way he wanted to give his daughter away.
After the sentencing, Johnson said she’s heartbroken thinking about what her son might have become.
“I will never see him grow older … and have kids of his own,” she said. “That was taken from all of us.
“I would love to see that face walk through the door again.”