At 5 feet, 4 inches tall, 69-year-old Thomas Namer was almost 40 years older and nearly a foot shorter than the man accused of stabbing him to death in November.
But in an interview with police, the suspect, Courtney Shea of Vassalboro, 30, 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighing 260 pounds, accused Namer of molesting him as a child.
Shea admitted to blacking out and killing Namer after the older man made sexual advances toward him in a car, also telling police that Namer was known to swap rides, alcohol, cigarettes and drugs with children for sex.
The allegations — contained in a police affidavit filed in support of the murder charge against Shea — outraged friends of Namer.
A Kennebec Journal review of police and court records shows that Namer, of Waterville, had a negligible criminal record and was never charged with or convicted of sexual abuse. Nonetheless, police in the upper Kennebec Valley noticed him over the years, investigating several suspicious incidents involving him.
A theme runs through Namer’s history with police: the presence of children.
Police suspected him of giving kids cigarettes and alcohol, and a former Skowhegan police chief remembers him as a “person of interest” for the department because he was often around young boys.
Shea’s lengthy criminal record dates back to age 13, and Namer’s death was the most serious in a string of incidents records show he has often confessed to.
Immediately after Namer’s death, his friend, Dana Oakes of Waterville, said he thought Shea might make allegations of abuse because Namer was openly gay.
Oakes had never heard of Namer’s incidents involving kids, but they don’t convince him of wrongdoing.
“Tom talked to anybody and everybody,” said Oakes, who said he met Namer at age 13.
“Myself, I’d like to believe it was Tom being Tom.”
A â€˜pattern of exchange’
According to an account of the Shea interview in an affidavit by Detective Abbe Chabot, Shea said Namer molested him when he was 11 and said he knew Namer often bought alcohol, cigarettes and drugs and gave rides to “young males and perhaps young females in exchange for sexual favors.”
Shea said he and Namer had that “pattern of exchange” when Shea was young, Chabot wrote. Shea also told police he takes medication for post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from sexual abuse earlier in life at the hands of a one-time boyfriend of his mother, Hazel Rossignol.
In 1999, Namer was managing Fantasies Plus, a Skowhegan adult video store that also sold pipes and sex toys that has since closed.
Butch Asselin, Skowhegan’s police chief from 1975 to 2007, told the Morning Sentinel in February 1999 that the department had received information that minors were buying cigarettes there, calling it “no place for kids to be hanging around.”
Police got a search warrant and raided the store, seizing $5,000 worth of tobacco products, drug paraphernalia and laughing gas. Police and court documents show Namer was charged with and later convicted of selling tobacco products without a license, a misdemeanor.
Asselin, now Houlton’s chief, said in an email late last month that he remembered Namer as a person of interest for his Skowhegan department in the late 1990s.
There were two main reasons why: “The type of business he managed” — the adult video store — and “because he was a middle-aged man known to be in the frequent accompaniment of young males” largely “known to have dysfunctional family backgrounds,” Asselin wrote.
In 2002, Skowhegan police encountered Namer again, when a convenience store cashier reported selling him a 40-ounce beer. After the cashier sent a co-worker outside to follow him because they knew him to regularly sell to children, that person reported seeing him hand the beer off to a “car full” of minors.
A police sergeant later located Namer, who said he gave the bottle to a passenger in the vehicle, claiming he was unaware giving the child alcohol was illegal, the police report says. Namer was charged with furnishing alcoholic beverages to a minor and issued a summons to appear in court.
But Skowhegan’s current chief, Ted Blais, who provided the report to the Kennebec Journal, said the charge never went forward because the police then failed to provide the district attorney’s office with sufficient evidence. The case was dismissed.
In 2010, Namer received another small-time conviction, according to a Waterville Police Department document provided by Chief Joseph Massey, who wouldn’t comment on Namer’s reputation among police.
After being charged with having a child — described only as being under age 8 and between 40 and 80 pounds — improperly secured in his car in Winslow, state driving records show Namer was convicted of a seatbelt violation.
But while Beth Handy of Waterville, a longtime friend of Namer and Shea’s aunt by a previous marriage to his uncle, said she wasn’t aware of the incidents, they don’t prove impropriety on Namer’s part.
“If he did it, it was because he was being nice,” she said.
Shea’s life of crime
Shea’s criminal history began with misdemeanors in 1996. He was 13 years old then. A February state document listing his charges over the years spans four pages, showing mostly liquor violations until his first felony in 2008.
On Nov. 22, the morning after he allegedly killed Namer, Shea called 911 to report a body next door to his mother’s house on Riverside Drive, U.S. Route 201, according to a transcript provided by the state to the Kennebec Journal after a Freedom of Access Act request. The body was Namer’s, but Shea denied during the call knowing who the dead man was.
However, in an interview, Shea confessed to killing Namer, also saying he has post-traumatic stress disorder from sexual molestation early in life and has been addicted to Klonapin, a drug treating panic disorders that he has been convicted of illegally having in the past.
His most notable convictions are for arson, robbery and theft, all felonies, and police got a quick confession in each case, police reports show.
In 2008, Deputy David Bucknam of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office said he went to a home in Vassalboro to investigate a truck fire. The fire totaled the truck and melted siding on the house. Those at the home thought Shea did it, Bucknam said.
When deputies tried to track the suspect on Riverside Drive, Shea walked toward them, saying, “I am coming to see you about what I did down the road,” according to Bucknam. Shea said he burned the truck because its owner had “stolen” Shea’s girlfriend.
The next year, Shea ran into more trouble after he robbed a Waterville convenience store armed with a tire iron.
The cashier reported that the robber, wearing a blue mask, demanded he give him the money in the register. When the cashier said he couldn’t open the register without making a sale, Shea told the cashier to give him two packs of cigarettes and two scratch tickets.
Police found Shea in a vehicle, where he admitted to the crime and said he wanted to give back what he took.
In October 2012, Winslow Police Detective Sgt. Gina Henderson visited Shea at Kennebec County jail, where he was incarcerated, to ask about two burglaries nearly three months before at Lobster Trap and Bee’s Snack Bar, two restaurants on U.S. 201.
A man had already confessed to the burglaries, Henderson wrote in a report, and he said Shea was with him.
When she told Shea that, she said Shea’s face turned red and he looked down at the table. Shea said he was “messed up and drunk” that night, and he recalled breaking into both places to steal money, which they only found at Bee’s by smashing a cash register. He told Henderson he was relieved that the truth was out, she wrote, and he said when he drinks, he drinks to the point of blacking out.
After Namer’s death, Shea told state police he had been drinking before and after he killed him.
Handy has said Shea has a violent temper while drunk and was a longtime drug user, but she never heard of a history of abuse.
It’s unclear how Shea’s accusations against Namer will affect the case.
A judge allowed his attorney, Brad Grant, to set up a mental health evaluation with the State Forensic Service, but Grant said Thursday he doesn’t know when it will happen. He wouldn’t comment on the case.
Police have said that Shea and Namer knew each other for a long time. Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland has said detectives continue to investigate Shea and Namer’s relationship.
William Stokes, the deputy Maine attorney general in charge of murder prosecution, said late last month that while authorities are interested in the past of the two men, they’re more concerned with learning all that happened the night of the homicide.
But there are a few tacks Shea’s lawyers could take if the case goes before a jury.
The United States Supreme Court has regularly affirmed a defendant’s right to present mitigating evidence about an abusive childhood at trial, and many famous murder defenses have been built around past abuse.
For example, in 1990, Jacqueline Bevins of Ogunquit shot her husband 15 times — reloading the gun during the shooting — while he sat in a bathtub. Her attorney, Daniel Lilley, built a self-defense argument, saying her husband abused her for years and may eventually have killed her.
The jury agreed. Bevins was acquitted, and nine years to the day after the killing, she won election as a selectman.
Shea saying he killed Namer while blacked out after a sexual advance evokes the controversial “gay panic defense” — meaning that the defendant found a same-sex advance so frightening it led to a period of temporary insanity during the killing. It has historically been used as a defense in some murder and assault cases.
However, a 1992 book said courts haven’t been sympathetic to it and earlier this year the American Bar Association denounced it in a formal vote of its policy committee, saying governments should outlaw its use and juries should ignore sexual orientation of a victim.
Darrick Banda, an Augusta-based defense attorney, said there are two routes the defense could try taking in Shea’s case: temporary insanity or self-defense.
“The undisputed facts are that he caused the death, but not all killing is illegal,” Banda said.
But those close to Namer won’t buy Shea’s story, including Todd Maheu of Vermont, the victim’s son, whose life he was in and out of.
Maheu said Namer fathered him out of wedlock at age 24, and he was raised largely away from his father by his mother because she didn’t like the “bar crowd” Namer hung around with.
However, Maheu said, into adulthood, his father was a positive influence, always answering the phone when his son called and giving him advice.
His son hadn’t heard of any criminal incidents involving children, but he never knew his father to be around minors and didn’t know Shea.
Maheu said, “I don’t know what to think,” about Shea’s accusations of abuse, but “I don’t believe him.”
“I think an accused murderer is going to grasp at anything to try and make it look like the victim deserved it,” he said.