A Portland police detective described for the first time on Wednesday how a report of a stolen gun led to a murder charge against a 24-year-old man accused of a fatal shooting in Portland’s West End in 2016.

But there was no suggestion about a motive behind the shooting during a bail hearing Wednesday in Superior Court in which a detective laid out the years of investigative work, including assistance from state and federal law enforcement, that led to the charges.

Aristotle Stilley Portland Police department

Aristotle Stilley, 24, formerly of South Portland, was ordered held without bail by Justice MaryGay Kennedy at the conclusion of nearly two hours of testimony by Portland Police Detective Jeffrey Tully. The so-called Harnish bail hearing allows the judge to assess whether there is enough probable cause to support holding the defendant.

Stilley attended the hearing via Zoom from Cumberland County Jail. Kennedy rebuffed arguments by Stilley’s attorney, Joseph Mekonis, that police had failed to offer enough direct evidence to continue holding Stilley, and asked that he be released on $25,000 bail to live with his brother in South Portland.

“I acknowledge there are things we do not know or may not know,” Kennedy said. “I do find there is probable cause.”

Stilley was indicted by a Cumberland County grand jury in August 2020 and is charged with murder and aggravated assault. He was arrested in October following a routine traffic stop in Sacramento, California, where he was staying. Stilley pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment in February after he was extradited back to Maine.

He is accused of killing David Anderson, 36, and wounding another man inside the apartment at 88 Gilman St. on March 15, 2016. Surveillance footage from the hallway of the building showed the assailant dressed in dark clothing with a hooded sweatshirt that obscured his face. The person in the video went to the apartment where Anderson was staying and opened fire through the door shortly after 11 p.m. The shooter then picked up each of the six shell casings and fled.

David Anderson

Stilley’s attorney, Mekonis, argued that police did not know whether the person in the images was a man or a woman, and said that the state had failed to show that Stilley was connected to the shooting or the gun they had found, pointing out a lack of a motive and other holes in the state’s case.

Tully also said the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency had been surveilling the apartment the night of the shooting. Informants told them that the apartment where Anderson was killed was a reliable place to buy drugs. But their surveillance that evening stopped a short time before the shooting, and no one inside the apartment could identify Stilley later.

Mekonis also argued that the key witness, Stilley’s girlfriend, whose testimony helped secure the charges against Stilley, already had lied to police, undermining her credibility, and said that she never saw her boyfriend with a gun.

“This was a targeted shooting, the shooter goes to a specific place to a specific floor and a specific door, if Mr. Stilley was doing this direct hit, it would stand common sense that he had been there before,” Mekonis argued. “This is the absence of evidence.”

Tully’s testimony showed just how slowly the investigation unfolded. At first, there was little physical evidence to go on, Tully said.

But the day after the shooting, before police had even finished processing the shooting scene, a woman walked into the Portland Police Department to report that her handgun had been stolen the night before from her car in Portland as she visited with her mother on Gilman Street.

The woman, Naja Lake, of Water Street in Saco, told Tully she bought the gun a month before and kept it in her glove box and believed it was stolen some time before 9 p.m. the night before. She told Tully that she bought a distinctive type of ammunition that had blue bullets.

But Lake acted strangely during the interview, Tully said, and asked soon after sitting down with Tully if she would be arrested, and left the police station without filing a report. The bullets recovered from the scene of the shooting all had the same blue nylon coating, Tully said.

In a second interview, Lake told Tully that she was not alone when she came to Portland that evening. Before visiting with her mother, Lake said she dropped off her boyfriend, Aristotle Stilley, then 20, at an event sponsored by a nonprofit that works with formerly incarcerated youth.

But police then interviewed Lake’s mother, who said they did not visit each other that night, and the nonprofit said Stilley had not attended an event on March 15. Maine State Police also obtained cellphone records for Lake’s phone, which she shared with Stilley, that showed the phone was in Portland from about 9:30-11 p.m. the night of the shooting – contradicting Lake’s earlier story.

Police seized her phone during a subsequent interview, and Lake became uncooperative when detectives asked for the passcode to access its contents.

Several weeks later, in early May, Portland police recovered a gun from under a dumpster on Oxford Street. Although one serial number had been filed off, a second hidden serial number showed that it belonged to Lake, but Lake never picked up the gun and stopped responding to detectives’ calls.

When we recovered the gun, I tried to contact her and let her know, but she wasn’t returning phone calls,” Tully said. “When we find or recover stolen property, the person is usually surprised and happy that they might get it back.”

Police said they also connected Stilley to the apartment on Gilman street using information gleaned from the cellphone. Tully said the phone that Lake and Stilley shared had communicated with a Portland man, Preston Cooper.

“(Cooper) knew Aristotle as ‘Young Buck,’ he thought of himself as a mentor, a mentor on the streets,” Tully said. “

Cooper told detectives that he had met up with Stilley at Maine Medical Center on the night of March 15, and they discussed the Gilman Street apartment as a place to get drugs. But Cooper could not recall if he told Stilley to go there that night.

The next break in the case came two years later in 2018. Portland police worked with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland and secured a warrant to call Lake as a witness before a federal grand jury investigating an unspecified federal criminal conduct, Tully said. In exchange for immunity from prosecution, Lake provided the grand jury with a revised story about her gun and Stilley’s actions that night in 2016.

Lake told the federal grand jury that she and Stilley made the decision together for her to buy the handgun, and that Stilley was present for the purchase, Tully said. On March 15, the night of the shooting, she told the grand jury that she drove Stilley to Maine Medical Center and he went inside for about half an hour. When Stilley got back in the car, he directed her to Forest Street, which runs parallel to Gilman street one block away.

Lake waited for about five minutes, and Stilley got back in the vehicle, and the couple headed back to Saco via Route 1. On the way south, Stilley told her to stop in Old Orchard Beach.

“She said that he wanted to get rid of it,” Tully said, referring to the gun. She said when she confronted Stilley about whether her gun might have been used in a shooting, Stilley did not deny it. 

“I asked him if this is possible,” Lake told the grand jury. “If my gun was used in a Portland shooting.”

Lake said Stilley started to cry, and she never asked him again about his involvement.

Note: This article was updated Thursday, May 20 to correct the spelling of Naja Lake’s first name.

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