March 11, 2010

Court upholds sentence for murder

TREVOR MAXWELL

— By

click image to enlarge

Staff Photo by John Patriquin, Thursday, April 13, 2006: Michael Hutchinson during his arraignment in Cumberland County Superior Court for the 1994 murder of Crystal Perry.

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Maine's highest court on Thursday upheld Michael Hutchinson's conviction and life sentence for the brutal murder of Crystal Perry at her home in Bridgton in 1994.

In a 25-page decision, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court rejected several arguments made by Hutchinson's lawyer, including one that called into question Maine's sentencing law for murder convictions.

Attorney Robert Andrews contended that the sentencing law is fundamentally unfair because it allows trial judges to impose life sentences based on facts that are determined by a judge but are not proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.

A life sentence is essentially a separate, more serious punishment than any term of years, Andrews said.

Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber argued that Maine judges have discretion in sentencing because that has been the intent of the state Legislature.

Justices sided with the Attorney General's Office. The ruling said trial judges are allowed to determine facts and apply them to sentences in murder cases -- even if those facts are not proven beyond a reasonable doubt by prosecutors during the trial -- as long as the sentences fall within the 25-years-to-life range.

''In this case, the court's sentence was the product of a reasoned analysis that was firmly rooted in two of the most aggravating attributes of this heinous crime,'' the justices wrote in their decision on the Hutchinson case.

They noted that the judge determined extreme cruelty and sexual assault were elements of the crime.

''There was no violation of the sentencing principle,'' the justices wrote.

The court also found that the state did not violate Hutchinson's constitutional rights when investigators obtained a DNA sample from the inside of his cheek after a conviction for an unrelated felony in 2003. The DNA sample matched evidence found at the murder scene, and led to the prosecution of Hutchinson for the crime.

He was tried and convicted in April 2007. Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren sentenced Hutchinson to life in prison a few months later.

Life imprisonment is the most serious punishment in Maine's judicial system. It has been imposed only 11 times in the last 15 years.

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

tmaxwell@pressherald.com

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