The state’s top court will hear an appeal this week based in part on COVID-19 restrictions that limited court access during a sentencing hearing for murder.

Noah Gaston

Noah Gaston, 38, is serving 40 years in prison for fatally shooting his wife on the stairs of their Windham home on Jan. 14, 2016. He told police that he mistook 34-year-old Alicia Gaston for an intruder in the early morning darkness. Prosecutors said he either meant to kill her or shot knowing it was her on the steps. A jury deliberated for 12 hours over three days in November 2019 and ultimately found him guilty of murder.

Gaston’s sentencing was initially delayed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring. The hearing finally took place in June 2020, and he has now appealed his conviction and his sentence. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral arguments via remote conferencing Wednesday morning.

His attorneys are expected to argue that the sentencing hearing violated his rights to a public trial because courtroom capacity was limited and some people were allowed to address the court by videoconference. The appeal includes several other factors, including the admission of statements Gaston made to members of his church after the shooting and a dispute over the jury instructions for murder.

Alicia Gaston Press Herald file photo

Gaston was indicted on two charges: murder and manslaughter. The judge instructed the jury on the legal definitions of both crimes, as well as the law related to self-defense. A person who is guilty of murder has intentionally or knowingly caused the death of another person, while a person who is guilty of manslaughter has acted with recklessness or criminal negligence to cause that death. Maine law allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense when they reasonably believe the other person is about to use deadly force themselves.

A first trial took place in February but lasted just one day. On the day the state’s chief medical examiner was scheduled to testify, he said that he needed to change a phrase in his report, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial. That confusion barely factored into the second trial and is not directly mentioned in the court’s summary of topics on appeal.

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