A federal appeals court has ordered a new trial on one count for a Maine man convicted of causing an Englishman’s suicide.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said that the judge allowed prejudicial testimony in the case of Sidney Kilmartin, formerly of Windham, who acquired cyanide and offered to sell it to people he met online who said they wanted to commit suicide. Kilmartin, 57, pleaded guilty to fraud-related counts and then was convicted in 2016 after a jury trial on five other counts.

Sidney Kilmartin

It’s unclear if prosecutors will seek to retry Kilmartin on the one count, which is for witness tampering. He is serving multiple 25-year concurrent sentences on other counts related to the cyanide case and the appeals court ruling doesn’t affect those. Only the witness tampering charge was ordered returned to U.S. District Court in Maine for retrial.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maine declined to comment on the case Monday.

Kilmartin is being held in a federal facility in Lexington, Kentucky.

The most serious count Kilmartin had faced was a century-old statute against “mailing injurious articles resulting in death.” Kilmartin could have received a life sentence on that charge, but U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock sentenced him to 25 years. Woodcock said he has only sentenced one person to life in prison while a federal judge and did so only because it was mandatory.


Kilmartin was acquitted on a charge of witness retaliation.

In 2012, Kilmartin obtained the cyanide from a California dealer by posing as a jeweler. The substance can be used in etching jewelry and, for $127, Kilmartin obtained enough to potentially cause hundreds of deaths.

After getting the cyanide, Kilmartin went into suicide-related chatrooms on the internet and offered to sell it, but instead mailed harmless Epsom salts to those interested. The appeals court called his scheme “as cruel as it was cynical.”

One customer, Andrew Denton of Hull, England, complained to the FBI when he received the Epsom salts instead of cyanide. The court found that Kilmartin eventually sent him real cyanide in an effort to get him to drop his complaint and Denton took the substance and died.

During the trial, Woodcock allowed prosecutors to have others who sought to buy cyanide from Kilmartin testify. They “went into excruciating detail about … personal lives, medical issues, histories of depression, earlier suicide attempts, suicidal motivations, and the like,” the appeals court said.

That “barrage of emotionally-laden testimony,” the three-judge appeals panel said, “amounted to a blatant attempt to engage and inflame the jurors’ passions.”

Still, the appeals court ruled that the improper testimony was not enough to warrant setting aside most of the counts on which Kilmartin was convicted. The exception was a charge of witness tampering and the court said the testimony might have influenced jurors to convict him on that count when the evidence was not as strong as on other charges.

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