Argued: November 6, 2019
Pratt, Esq. (orally), and Ellen Simmons, Esq., Camden, for
appellant James E. Sweeney.
M. Frey, Attorney General, and Leanne Robbin, Asst. Atty.
Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for
appellee State of Maine.
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and
James E. Sweeney appeals from a judgment of conviction of
murder, 17-A M.R.S. § 201 (2018), entered by the court
(Franklin County, Stokes, J.) after a jury-waived
trial. Sweeney argues that the court erred in admitting
certain testimony given by the mother of the
woman he killed; he also challenges his
sentence. After careful review, we affirm.
Factual and Procedural History
The court made the following findings of fact, which are
supported by competent record evidence from the trial.
See State v. Fournier, 2019 ME 28, ¶ 2, 203
A.3d 801. In the summer of 2017, Sweeney and W.D. had been
romantically involved with one another for over a decade.
Witnesses who knew the couple described the relationship as
generally "good," but in the spring of 2017,
Sweeney became increasingly jealous and suspicious that W.D.
was involved with other men. Even though W.D. and everyone
who knew the couple assured Sweeney that his suspicions were
unfounded, Sweeney was "unmoved."
In March of 2017, W.D. woke in the middle of the night to
find Sweeney standing in her bedroom with a gun in his hands.
According to the trial court, the significance of that event
was its demonstration that "[Sweeney] had reached [such]
a level of desperation and panic in his relationship with
[W.D.] that he was experiencing suicidal and possibly
Three months later, in June of 2017, W.D. told Sweeney that
their relationship was over but that he could remain living
in her house, at least for a while. Early in the morning of
July 11, 2017, while W.D. was asleep, Sweeney entered her
bedroom and violently struck her face and head with a wooden
bat. W.D. died as a result of that blunt force trauma.
On August 23, 2017, Sweeney was indicted on one count of
intentional or knowing murder, 17-A M.R.S. § 201(1)(A).
He entered pleas of not guilty and not criminally responsible
by reason of insanity, see M.R.U. Crim. P. 11(a)(1),
and waived his right to a jury trial, see M.R.U.
Crim. P. 23(a).
At trial, which was held over the course of six days in
January and February of 2019, the State called W.D.'s
mother to testify about the March 2017 incident. The mother
stated that early in the morning on that day, W.D. had
arrived at her house "nervous and scared and
crying," telling her that Sweeney had "woken [W.D.]
up with a gun pointing in her face." The mother also
testified that, although she did not know exactly what time
the incident had occurred, "whenever it happened, [W.D.]
came immediately when she got the gun [away from Sweeney] and
brought it to my house." Over Sweeney's objection,
the court admitted the mother's testimony pursuant to the
present sense impression exception to the rule against
hearsay. See M.R. Evid. 803(1). The court also ruled
that, contrary to the State's position, the statement was
not admissible pursuant to the excited utterance exception,
M.R. Evid. 803(2).
On February 1, 2019, the court found Sweeney guilty of the
murder and continued the ...