April 14, 2013

Maine's longest-serving prisoner running no more

For 79-year-old Albert Paul – a convicted thief and murderer with a colorful history of breaking free – those days are now years behind him.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Albert Paul, 79, has spent most of his life in prison for a string of crimes and is currently serving a life sentence for a 1971 murder. The Department of Corrections has estimated that it has spent nearly $1.5 million since the early 1950s to keep the Maine man locked up.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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1972 booking photos from the Maine State Prison in Thomaston

Additional Photos Below

Paul said he put his hands around her throat to quiet her.

“I choked her quicker than I realized,” he told the jury.

The hope in confessing was that the judge might show clemency and convict Paul of manslaughter, a crime of passion, rather than murder, a crime of premeditation.

It didn’t work.

“I think the defense is asking me to set a legal basis for the requirement of submission on the part of a robbery victim that would excuse violent acts,” Justice William McCarthy said. “Unfortunately, this I cannot accept, nor do I feel that is the law.”

Paul had waived a jury trial, putting his fate in the judge’s hands. He was found guilty and sentenced to prison, at hard labor, for the rest of his life.


Today, Paul says he made up almost all of the confession. This is the first time he’s publicly told what he says is the real story.

He did go to Donahue’s home intending to rob her, he said, but had an accomplice, a man named Alfred Pelletier. It was Pelletier who killed the woman, he said.

Paul said that the cellar window with his fingerprints on it was too narrow for him to fit through, but Pelletier was much smaller and could fit. That’s why none of Paul’s fingerprints were found inside, he said.

Pelletier, as it turns out, is dead now. Attempts to find information about Alfred Pelletier in Maine were unsuccessful. A man by that name died in 2011 in Madawaska.

So why did Paul confess?

“He was a friend of mine. I wasn’t going to put the finger on him. What could I do?” Paul said, matter-of-factly.

Former prosecutor Culley, now a partner at Pierce Atwood in Portland, said he remembers the murder case as “pretty straightforward” and Paul as a “terribly pathetic guy.”

“I always got the sense that (Paul) wanted to be in prison. I don’t think he knew how to function on the outside,” he said.

Culley said he doesn’t recall anything during the trial to suggest Paul had help in the murder.

Lilley, who has defended more than 50 murder suspects since, said he doesn’t remember much about the case. Even if he did, though, his conversations with Paul are still protected by attorney-client privilege.

Paul never appealed the conviction, which is unusual in murder cases. He said he saw no need.

Besides, he said, “I always figured I could escape.”


In 1974, Paul was spending a lot of time in the prison craft room where inmates could make things to be sold in the prison showroom and keep part of the proceeds. Paul specialized in miniature wooden cradles for dolls. The tiny furniture proved popular, but it also gave him an idea.

Paul amassed a list of enemies over the years and wanted to have a little fun with one of them. He fashioned a makeshift bomb out of match heads and light bulbs, hid the contraption underneath one of his cradles, and sent the cradle to Robert Marden, a Waterville attorney who prosecuted Paul in a robbery case two decades before. Marden received the package but never opened it. The bomb didn’t go off.

Paul, whose name was on the package’s return label, said he wanted to get caught. His theory: Do something crazy and they would send him to the mental hospital, where he could escape more easily.

He was sent to solitary instead. He decided to escape anyway.

Paul discovered one day that the concrete floor of his cell could be broken with a little effort and some help from a smuggled pry bar. Beneath the crumbled stone was earth.

(Continued on page 4)

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Additional Photos

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Albert Paul, photographed Jan. 18 at the Maine State Prison in Warren, will turn 80 in June. He’s been in and out of prison – mostly in – since he was 18 and likely will die there, having been sentenced to life for killing a South Portland woman in 1971.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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This newspaper clipping from Sept. 8, 1962, details the reapprehension of Maine State Prison inmate Albert Paul, who managed to escape several times – sometimes quite dramatically – during his lifetime of incarceration.

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Clippings from newspaper archives chronicle Paul’s journey to life in prison.

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