Sarah Richards with her attorney, Jeremy Pratt, at her sentencing hearing Wednesday in Knox County Superior Court. Stephen Betts/Courier-Gazette

ROCKLAND — A South Thomaston woman was sentenced Wednesday to 38 years in prison for murdering 83-year-old Helen Carver last year in her Owls Head home.

Justice Bruce Mallonee imposed the sentence on 38-year-old Sarah Richards following a hearing in Knox County Superior Court.

Defense attorney Jeremy Pratt of Camden asked for a 30-year sentence, citing his client’s long history of mental illness and drug addiction.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Ellis Jr. asked for a 50-year sentence, saying there were many aggravating factors in the murder including that the victim was 83 and physically disabled, and that the crime occurred in the victim’s home.

The minimum sentence for murder in Maine is 25 years; the maximum is life behind bars.

Richards spoke briefly during the hearing, saying she sincerely apologized to Carver’s family and her own. She said she does not fully remember the events surrounding the murder.

Richards blamed her criminal history on her drug addiction.

“It’s not an excuse, but it is the reality of my life,” she said.

Mallonee detailed the injuries Carver suffered and said the attack on Feb. 21, 2019, was prolonged.

The prosecutor said the crime was torturous, extremely cruel and showed extreme savagery.

“This was an extreme case of elder abuse against a helpless, elderly woman,” Ellis said.

Richards pleaded guilty April 23 to murder and theft.

Helen Carver’s son Robert Carver Jr. submitted a letter about the impact on him and the family. Another son, Glenn Carver of Tennessee, was on a video feed for the sentencing hearing. Saying he wanted justice for his mother, he asked that Richards be sentenced to 75 years in prison.

Richards admitted to police she struck Helen Carver in the head with a snow shovel, claiming initially she did it in self-defense because the woman tried to attack her.

Blood was found on the shovel and a flashlight. The Maine medical examiner determined Carver died of blunt force trauma to her head and upper body as well as strangulation. The autopsy found broken bones in her neck and several broken vertebrae on the upper and lower back.

Richards initially told state police detectives that she went into the house and Carver was fine when she left. In a second interview, she claimed Carver was already dead and she tried to perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation before leaving and not telling anyone about the death. During a third interview, Richards claimed self-defense.

Carver’s mobility was limited, and she had walkers on both the first and second floors of her home.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office was investigating Richards, who shoveled snow for Carver, on suspicion of stealing a debit card belonging to Carver and spending more than $1,000 from her bank account. The Sheriff’s Office had scheduled an interview with Richards Feb. 22 about the theft.

Robert Carver Jr. said he spoke to his mother on the day of the murder. He said she told him Richards was shoveling snow at that time and that she had taken her debit card.

Richards was arrested Feb. 22 and indicted March 5, 2019, by a Knox County grand jury on murder and theft charges. She has been held since at the Knox County Jail.

The judge also ordered Richards to pay $7,246 in restitution for Carver’s funeral expenses as well as the cost of having the house cleaned after the murder and to repay more than $1,000 that she spent from Carver’s stolen debit card. The Maine Department of Corrections will collect the restitution during Richards’ prison term.

The prosecutor pointed out Richards’s lengthy criminal record, which includes a 2004 assault. Mallonee said the criminal record was remarkable for its length, severity and variety.

She was convicted of stealing more than 100 lobster crates in 2013 from Fox Island Lobster in Cushing, where she worked.

She had theft convictions in 2004, 2007 and 2012. She also has 2012 convictions in New Jersey, where she was living, for endangering the welfare of a child and disorderly conduct.

In 2016, she was sentenced to nine months in jail for drug trafficking. In June 2017, she was sentenced to 30 days in jail for violating probation.

Carver and her husband moved to Owls Head in 1977 to a home that was in her husband’s family for three generations. They operated Carver’s Market in Thomaston from 1977 to 1989. She was born in Rockland.

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