Argued: June 13, 2018
A. McNamara, Esq. (orally), Drake Law, LLC, Berwick, for
appellant Wesley Villacci.
S. Robinson, District Attorney, and Claire G. Andrews, Asst.
Dist. Atty. (orally), Prosecutorial District III, Lewiston,
for appellee State of Maine.
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and
Wesley M. Villacci appeals from a judgment of conviction of
domestic violence assault (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. §
207-A(1)(B)(1) (2017), and violating a condition of release
(Class E), 15 M.R.S. § 1092(1)(A) (2017), entered by the
trial court (Franklin County, Mallonee, /.) after a
jury trial. Villacci argues that the court erred by failing
to fully instruct the jury on the State's burden to
disprove the statutory justifications Villacci generated in
defense of the charges or on the consequences of the
State's failure to meet that burden. We vacate the
Viewing the evidence presented at trial in the light most
favorable to the State, the jury rationally could have found
the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt. See State
v.Jeskey, 2016 ME 134, ¶ 30, 146 A.3d 127. In 2015,
Villacci and the victim began an intimate relationship.
During a disagreement on October 1, 2016, Villacci hit the
victim on her face, grabbed her by her hair and banged her
head on the dashboard and side window of the vehicle he was
driving, pushed her into the passenger side door, and kicked
her. The vehicle went off the road and crashed into some
trees; after exiting the vehicle, Villacci again hit the
victim's head hard enough that her "vision went
black" and she dropped to the ground, whereupon Villacci
continued hitting and kicking her. When Villacci and the
victim later reached the victim's home, Villacci slapped
the victim, punched her, pushed her into a wall and onto the
ground, and placed his hands around the victim's throat
and strangled her until she passed out. Villacci then began
hitting and pushing the victim again.
Villacci assaulted the victim on multiple other occasions
between October of 2016 and January of 2017—at least
once per week and sometimes daily—by strangling her
until she almost passed out; kicking her; hitting her; biting
her; holding her face down in the snow; and slapping her face
with an open palm, giving her a bloody nose. On one occasion
in November of 2016, Villacci ripped the towel off the victim
after she exited the shower, whipped her with the towel,
pushed her head into a wall, pulled her down the hall by her
hair, and hit her with a broom handle. On another occasion in
January of 2017, Villacci pushed the victim onto a table and
held her there face-down while he punched her on her back and
arms. The victim suffered bruises, abrasions, soreness,
ringing in her ear, bite marks, and other injuries as a
result of these incidents.
By criminal complaint filed on January 6, 2017, and then by
indictment filed on May 18, 2017, Villacci was charged with
aggravated assault (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. § 208(1) (C)
(2017); domestic violence assault (Class C), 17-A M.R.S.
§207-A(1)(B)(1); and violating a condition of release
(Class E), 15 M.R.S. § 1092(1)(A). He pleaded not guilty
to all counts.
The court conducted a jury trial on September 13 and 14,
2017. Villacci testified about, and his defense relied in
large part on, the application of four statutory
justifications: (1) self-defense, see 17-A M.R.S.
§ 108 (2017); (2) defense of premises, see
17'-A M.R.S. § 104 (2017); (3) defense of property,
see 17-A M.R.S. § 105 (2017); and (4) consent,
see 17-A M.R.S. § 109 (2017).
In its jury instructions, the court described the elements of
aggravated assault and domestic violence assault by tracking
the language of the applicable statutes and then further
defining various terms used in those statutes. See
17-AM.R.S. §§ 35(1)-(3), 207-A(1)(B)(1), 208(1)(C)
(2017); 19-A M.R.S. § 4002(4) (2017). In other portions
of the jury instructions, the court stated that "[t]he
State always has the burden to prove each element of the
offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt" and that
"[y]our only interest is to determine whether the State
has proved the pending charge beyond a reasonable
With the State's agreement that there was sufficient
evidence to generate a jury instruction on each of the four
justifications, the court also instructed the jury on the
elements of the justifications, again by tracking the
applicable language of those statutes:
A person is justified in using a reasonable degree of
nondeadly force upon another person in order to defend . . .
the person or a third person from what the person reasonably
believes to be the imminent use of unlawful, nondeadly force
by such other person, and the person may use a degree of such