BELFAST — A Thorndike woman pleaded guilty Monday to charges of manslaughter and unlawful furnishing of drugs in connection with the death of a 72-year-old Burnham woman, who suffered a heart attack in April after the woman broke into her home unclothed during the early morning hours and jumped in her bed.

Tara Shibles, 37, admitted to the offenses in Waldo County Superior Court as part of a plea deal, avoiding a trial that had been scheduled for this month. Under the deal, Shibles was sentenced to six years in prison, with all but 10 months suspended.

During Monday’s hearing, attorneys revealed for the first time details of how Shibles came to be in the home of the victim, Joyce Wood. They said Shibles had consumed enough alcohol for her blood-alcohol level to be about twice the legal limit for driving, putting her in a confused and “black-out condition.”

Sobbing before Justice Robert Murray late Monday afternoon, Shibles apologized to Wood’s family for her actions. Several of Woods’ family members were in attendance at the hearing, with many giving letters to be read aloud a victim’s witness advocate.

All family letters were asking for the harshest sentence to be called for Shibles, which for manslaughter is up to 30 years in prison.

“It was never my intention to hurt anyone,” Shibles said, choking back tears. “I never meant to hurt anyone, I’m sorry.”

Shibles’s attorneys asked for the prison sentence to be postponed until Dec. 26, so she could be with her family on Christmas Day and get the affairs for her two daughters in order. But the judge denied the request, saying while this was a “highly unusual case,” the Christmas request was not appropriate — as the family of the victim is having to go through the holiday season without Woods.

Shibles also pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful furnishing of a scheduled drug. Shibles’s attorney, Steven Peterson, said his client gave Ritalin that she was prescribed to another person who was in the house during a search, prompting the charge.

Peterson said Shibles was simply paying back a debt from when she borrowed Ritalin when her own prescription ran out.

A Waldo County Grand Jury in May indicted Shibles on charges of manslaughter, aggravated criminal trespassing and assault.

On April 2, Maine State Police and the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call from Joyce Wood, 72, who reported an intruder in her house at 261 South Horseback Road between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland previously said that family arrived on scene before police and helped Wood out to a car in the driveway, where “she was stricken and died.”

According to the medical examiner’s report, which is written by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Wood reported someone had broken into her house and jumped into her bed. Wood suffered a sudden death after the invasion, caused by ischemic cardiovascular disease, also known as coronary artery disease, according to the report.

Ischemic cardiovascular disease is a “long, chronic process” that diminishes the blood flow to the heart, according to Mark Belserene, an administrator in the medical examiner’s office. The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide.

The defense pointed out that Woods suffered a serious heart condition with pre-conditions that contributed, and that Shibles left a different house that night in a state of confusion.

“The last thing in the world she expected was that she would be harming someone, let alone cause death,” Peterson said. “She was in a black-out condition” having consumed four 24-ounce containers of alcohol on the night in question.

The state said that her blood alcohol level upon being found in the Woods home at 7:15 a.m. was .089. She would have had a level between .12 and .16 when she entered the home several hours earlier, assistant attorney general John Alsop said.

“The terror and shock caused by Tara Shibles’s entry into the home and the bed caused Joyce to have an immediate and fatal heart attack,” Alsop said.

Police said they found “a naked woman hiding in the home” — later identified as Shibles — and shoes down the road that “probably belonged to the naked woman,” the medical examiner’s report said.

McCausland said that Shibles was questioned for hours, but was initially released without charges. State police later charged Shibles with manslaughter in connection to the case.

Police called the case and circumstances “bizarre” as they investigated what happened that night.

Angie Huff, a cashier at Patterson’s Store, previously said that police said Shibles had attended parties held late Saturday or early Sunday before entering Wood’s home, suggesting she may have been under the influence. Huff answered questions for police about who had held the reported parties while working that Sunday in April.

Wood was well-known in the Burnham area and neighbors remembered her as kind, funny and loving.

Wood died in what was described by family members as close to a state of terror that morning, finding a stranger had broken into her home and crawled into her bed. The victim’s witness advocate read letters from Wood’s daughter and granddaughters, who described a void in their life that Shibles was directly responsible for.

Wood’s nephew, who tried to save her that morning, also read a letter before the judge. With his hands shaking as he read, the nephew, whose name was not audible in the courtroom, said after Wood called 911 the dispatcher called him because he was close by. Given the early hour, he said his adrenaline began to skyrocket, but it was nothing compared to the fear Wood must have experienced in her final hours.

While he read, Shibles sat with her head down. He described his horror of having to pull Wood out of his car, where he had placed her, while others attempted CPR on her. Choking up, he described the “horrible sight” of it, while the “person who caused it snuggled all warm and cozy in my aunt’s bed.”

He said the terms of punishment which Shibles was later sentenced did not fit the crime, and would result only in an inconvenience to her.


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