Argued: June 12, 2018
S. Robinson, District Attorney, Joshua W. Robbins, Asst.
Dist. Atty., and Michael B. Dumas, Asst. Dist. Atty.
(orally), Office of the District Attorney, Farmington, for
appellant State of Maine
S. Rioux, Esq. (orally), and Valerie A. Randall, Esq., Rioux,
Donahue, Chmelecki & Peltier, Portland, for appellee John
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HJELM,
The State of Maine appeals from a judgment of the trial court
(Franklin County, Mills, J.) granting John
Fahnley's petition for post-conviction review and,
pursuant to 15 M.R.S. § 2130 (2017), vacating his
conviction of sexual abuse of a minor (Class C), 17-A M.R.S.
§ 254(1)(A-2) (2017). The court found that Fahnley had
been deprived of the effective assistance of counsel during
his criminal trial. Because we conclude that the court's
factual findings are supported by competent record evidence,
we affirm the judgment.
The post-conviction court made the following factual
findings, which are supported by competent evidence in the
record. See Middleton v. State, 2015 ME 164, ¶
2, 129 A.3d 962.
In 2013, Fahnley was indicted for one count of gross sexual
assault (Class A), 17-A M.R.S. § 253(1)(A) (2017), and
two counts of sexual abuse of a minor (Class C), 17-A M.R.S.
§ 254(1)(A-2). In 2014, a jury found Fahnley guilty of
one count of sexual abuse of a minor and not guilty of the
other two counts. We affirmed Fahnley's conviction in
2015, State v. Fahnley, 2015 ME 82, ¶ 1, 119
A.3d 727, after which Fahnley filed a petition for
post-conviction review in the Superior Court, alleging that
he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel at
trial. In his petition, Fahnley asserted that he received
ineffective assistance because trial counsel (1) failed to
present exculpatory evidence, including medical records and
credit card records; (2) failed to present witnesses for the
defense; and (3) notified him in a letter shortly before
trial that certain evidence would be presented, but then
failed to present the evidence and failed to discuss that
decision with him.
After a hearing, the court granted Fahnley's petition for
post-conviction review and vacated the conviction of sexual
abuse of a minor because it found that Fahnley had been
deprived of the effective assistance of counsel. In its
order, the court made the following findings, all of which
are supported by evidence presented at the post-conviction
Fahnley, a musician and photographer, was once in a band with
the alleged victim's father. The allegations against
Fahnley involved sexual contact with the alleged victim in
Fahnley's Maine home. At trial, the alleged victim
testified that he, his brother, and Fahnley drove to
Fahnley's house in Madrid, Maine, from the alleged
victim's family home in western Massachusetts in
mid-August of 2008, sometime between August 9th and September
3rd. Fahnley then drove the boys back to Massachusetts, where
the alleged victim got into an argument with his mother, so
he returned to Maine alone with Fahnley. He testified that it
was at this point-when he was alone with Fahnley in Maine
during the middle of August of 2008-that the sexual abuse
underlying the Class C conviction occurred.
During the two years before trial, Fahnley "performed
considerable legwork" in the preparation of his case. He
obtained his medical and financial records and identified
potential witnesses, all of which would have been relevant to
establish his whereabouts during August of 2008-the time
period that was primarily relevant to the charges against
him. In the weeks leading up to trial, Fahnley "became
distressed because trial counsel was not doing what [he] had
requested" and ultimately engaged the services of
another attorney, who was unable to represent Fahnley due to
his inexperience in the area of criminal law.
In January of 2014, a few weeks before the trial was set to
begin, trial counsel addressed Fahnley's concerns in a
letter. Among other things, trial counsel wrote that he
intended to address the alleged victim's inconsistent
statements, intended to use Fahnley's medical records,
intended to introduce photographs to show that the alleged
victim had not been alone in Maine with Fahnley, and intended
to introduce Fahnley's credit card billing records to
undermine the alleged victim's timeline of events. He
also wrote that he was attempting to speak to Fahnley's
doctor in order to determine what potential testimony she
could offer on his behalf.
During the alleged victim's testimony at trial, he made
statements that significantly contradicted the statements he
had made during his initial interview with a Massachusetts
detective, when he first reported the abuse in 2011, and
those statements he made during a subsequent interview
conducted by a Franklin County detective in Maine. Although
trial counsel had concluded that the State's case would
be based entirely on the alleged victim's credibility
because of the absence of forensic evidence or witnesses to
the alleged abuse, counsel merely refreshed the alleged
victim's recollection with the inconsistent statements.
Despite the pronounced ...