AUGUSTA — An Augusta man who attacked and nearly killed his cellmate last November at the Kennebec County jail was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison, with half of that to be served immediately.

Elijah Ashley, 21, was sentenced at the Capital Judicial Center after pleading guilty to aggravated assault on Paul Gagnon, who had been jailed for 30 days for contempt for failing to pay child support.

After Ashley serves the initial 10 years behind bars, the remainder of the 20-year sentence is to be suspended while Ashley spends four years on probation.

Ashley was held in jail in lieu of $750 bail after being arrested Nov. 12, 2017, on charges of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon. Augusta police said he pointed a gun at people on Littlefield Street in Augusta. That charge was dismissed Wednesday in exchange for the plea to the aggravated assault charge, a class A offense.

Gagnon, now 48, was discovered by corrections officers at 5:20 a.m. Nov. 18, 2017, on the bottom bunk of his cell “injured badly, non-responsive and bleeding from the head,” wrote Detective John Bourque, of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, who investigated the incident.

Bourque wrote that another inmate told corrections officers that Ashley and Gagnon might have fought because Ashley was stealing commissary food items, including peanut butter and cookies, from Gagnon while Gagnon was out of the cell receiving treatment for diabetes.

Bourque said Ashley told officers he had been “sleeping on the floor when Gagnon asked him to kill him.”

Ashley said he refused and that Gagnon then repeatedly smashed his own head on the floor. Ashley told officers he cleaned up the blood with his T-shirt and washed it. Ashley was found wearing a T-shirt with Gagnon’s name on it.

Bourque also noted that the knuckles on Ashley’s right hand were swollen.

Maine State Police evidence recovery technicians found blood on walls in the cell, on the floor, and over the entire mattress.

After the sentencing hearing, Ashley’s attorney, William Baghdoyan said, “My client decided he would accept the state’s plea offer rather than go to trial later this month.”

The maximum penalty for a class A aggravated assault charge — one which involved “serious permanent disfigurement or substantial impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ” — is 30 years.

Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason said around the time of the incident that the attack “appears to be an isolated incident.” Mason said inmates are placed in various classifications when they arrive, but added “You never know when things are going to occur or why.”

Mason said the staff checked the Q-block cells, where the attack occurred, every 30 minutes as required.

On Wednesday, Baghdoyan asked, “Why did the jail decide to put someone in jail for civil contempt with a person in for a potentially violent crime?”

Paul Gagnon’s mother, Diane Gagnon, who was taking care of her son at her home after he was hospitalized initially and then sent to a rehabilitation center, said previously, “I want everybody to know he was in there for back child support, and they put him with a violent inmate.”

“I take all victim cases seriously,” District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said of the sentencing. “What happened to Mr. Gagnon was a tragedy. I am relieved that our community will be safer because of this sentence.”

An arrest warrant had been issued for Gagnon on July 26, 2017, after a judge ordered him to pay $2,350 in partial back child support or spend 30 days in jail.

The state Department of Health and Human Services had sought payments from Gagnon for support of twins born in early 2000. A court order required him to pay $86 per week, but few of those payments were made, according to records in that case.

At one point in 2016, Gagnon paid $2,000 toward his debt; but as of March 28, 2017, he was out of compliance again, according to the state. Figures in the court file indicate the state calculated he owed $41,203 in April 2017, and the state was seeking a license suspension.

The department’s records indicate that if Gagnon could not pay, he was to provide weekly proof to the department that he was actively seeking a job.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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