By DAVID HENCH
Portland Press Herald
PORTLAND — Shirley Leighton, of Falmouth, was walking to the telephone Friday, intending to call a psychiatric facility in Westbrook to have her son Andrew committed, when he shot her in the back of the head with a gun he had bought the day before, according to a Maine State Police affidavit.
Andrew Leighton, 46, made his initial appearance on a murder charge Monday in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court. His attorney, Robert LeBrasseur, said Leighton appeared to be hearing voices during the proceeding and asked for an evaluation to determine whether his client can comprehend the court procedures he is undergoing.
Leighton, wearing yellow Cumberland County Jail clothing designating him as a maximum security inmate, answered Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren clearly that he understood the charge against him and also his rights. However, he spent much of the brief hearing looking down and occasionally nodding his head. At one point, LeBrasseur asked him whether he needed to return to the court holding cell, but Leighton declined.
Warren ordered that Leighton undergo a psychiatric evaluation and, if he is found to be mentally competent, that he undergo a further evaluation to explore the issues of criminal responsibility and whether he was in an abnormal state of mind when the shooting occurred.
According to a court affidavit filed by Maine State Police Detective Christopher Farley:
Two hours before Friday’s fatal shooting, Andrew and his father, Thomas Leighton, 71, were home at 19 Edgewater Road in Falmouth, arguing. Leighton had been living at his parents’ house for six years after a divorce. At 4 p.m. Friday, he asked his father to take him to get some beer. His father refused and said he would take him to the hospital instead, presumably for mental health treatment.
Leighton then pointed a gun at his father and grabbed him when the older man tried to run away.
Leighton then took his father’s cellphone so he couldn’t call police. Thomas Leighton managed to get away and his son chased him outside, saying, “Calm down. It’s only a BB gun.”
Leighton went back inside and his father stayed in the driveway until his wife, Shirley Leighton, 68, arrived home half an hour later.
The two discussed the incident, and Shirley Leighton went inside to talk to her son. A few minutes later, she told her husband that they agreed Leighton would go to the hospital at 6 p.m. He told his mother he had thrown the gun out the window, although she could not find it.
Leighton’s parents did not believe he would go to the hospital willingly and thought they would have to have him committed involuntarily.
Thomas Leighton then left the house to walk the dog. When he returned, his son was outside on the steps, smoking a cigarette. When Thomas Leighton asked his son where his mother was, Leighton replied, “I shot her.”
Leighton ran inside to find his wife’s body, with a pool of blood by her head.
Thomas Leighton turned to see his son pointing a gun at him, asking, “Do you want to live?” Thomas Leighton grabbed his son’s wrist, pointing the gun upward, and the two struggled.
Thomas Leighton ended up on top of his son, asking him for the gun, then told him he was having a heart attack and needed medicine. When Andrew Leighton walked to the medicine cabinet, his father ran, screaming for help.
Andrew Leighton pursued him at first, then turned back to the house.
Thomas Leighton called police, who surrounded the house. After a five-hour standoff, Leighton surrendered. Later, during an interview at the Cumberland County Jail, he told police he had shot his mother in the head as she was about to call Spring Harbor Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Westbrook.
He told police that he had bought the gun, a Baby Eagle, and its .40-caliber ammunition at Cabela’s in Scarborough on Thursday.
Leighton has no previous criminal history in Maine, according to the State Bureau of Identification, and nothing in state criminal records would have disqualified him from legally purchasing a gun.
If Leighton ever had been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment, he would have been disqualified from buying and owning a firearm; but Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese said that does not appear to be the case.
“The information I have right now is that he’s never been previously involuntarily committed,” Marchese said. She said Cabela’s apparently performed the required background check and Leighton passed.
Marchese said after Monday’s court hearing that Leighton “may have some issues — mental health history.”
Police had been called to the Leighton house once before — in May 2012 — for an incident involving Andrew Leighton, said Falmouth police Lt. Jon Kilbride. Kilbride said the call was a medical call, but he would not elaborate, saying it might be related to the murder investigation.
Kilbride said several Falmouth police officers knew Thomas and Shirley Leighton and found them to be “wonderful people.”
LeBrasseur said Leighton probably would remain in jail and a state forensic psychiatrist would talk to him there.
“It was clear he was hearing voices,” LeBrasseur said after the hearing. “As a defense attorney, I want to be sure he’s competent at every stage of the process.”
Marchese said Leighton must be found competent before he can participate in any other court proceedings. Sometimes that requires treatment, she said.
A woman in the courtroom who appeared to be a family member declined to comment after the hearing.
Warren delayed any future court appearances until after the competency evaluation is received.
“We’d like them to do a thorough job, not an expedited job, under the circumstances,” he said.