The South Paris woman who provided the firearm used by a Mexico man in a fatal shootout with Maine State Police three years ago was released from jail Monday following her sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Portland.

Judge George Z. Singal sentenced 50-year-old Stephanie Knightly to time served (63 days) for transferring a firearm to a felon – a federal felony. Knightly had been facing a prison sentence of up to 10 years, according to court records.

“Her mistake was giving a firearm to a convicted felon, but she was not responsible for the shootout,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Darcie N. McElwee.

Steve Piirainen

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court, the felon, Steven R. Piirainen, 52, gave Knightly money to buy the handgun in a private sale at a store parking lot in Scarborough on Aug. 16, 2014. Piirainen, who had seen the gun advertised on Uncle Henry’s, accompanied her.

Kightly’s attorney, James A. Clifford of Kennebunk, said in a sentencing memorandum filed with the federal court that Piirainen told Knightly she could resell the handgun and make a profit and that it was never her intention to give Piirainen the weapon. However, later that same day, Piirainen convinced Knightly to give him the gun, telling her that he had made arrangements for someone else to buy it.

“Unfortunately, she trusted him and permitted him to take possession of the handgun,” Clifford wrote. Knightly and Piirainen had been friends for 20 years. “She had no way of knowing Mr. Piirainen’s true intentions.”

On Aug. 18, 2014, Knightly refused to let Piirainen borrow her car because he was intoxicated. A few minutes later, he stole a pickup truck that belonged to Knightly’s boss at the Passenger Rail Restaurant and Bar in Norway. Piirainen fired shots as he drove off, and then drove to a gas station in South Paris where he started shooting at police officers. The officers returned fire and shot and killed him.

McElwee said Knightly’s attorney made a compelling argument that may have convinced the judge to grant his client a lighter sentence.

“As the court will see in letters submitted by family and friends, Ms. Knightly is a very good person, who made a very bad decision in August 2014,” Clifford wrote in his sentencing memorandum.

Clifford said his client was born and raised in the Oxford Hills region, graduating from Oxford Hills High School. He said she comes from a “very supportive and loving home.”

In court documents, Clifford wrote that Knightly lives with her parents and helps them care for her brother, who sustained a traumatic brain injury 34 years ago. Her brother needs round the clock care and treatment. Knightly, who is divorced – her ex-husband died in 2008 – also lost her son, 29-year-old Tyler, in 2014. Tyler left behind three children, ages 3 through 13.

“Tyler’s death was very difficult for Ms. Knightly. She continues to struggle with her loss. And while it is certainly no excuse, it was Tyler’s death that led Ms. Knightly to rely on and eventually become addicted to narcotics,” Clifford wrote in his sentencing memo.

Clifford told the court that “Piirainen took advantage of his friend, lied to her, recklessly endangered the lives of innocent people and law enforcement officials, and was directly responsible for his own death. Ms. Knightly deeply regrets her role in Mr. Piirainen’s shocking and unpredictable violence.”

Clifford wrote in court documents that his client would benefit from intensive substance abuse treatment and will be eager to seek treatment once she has been released from jail.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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