LISBON — A man serving two life sentences for maiming a father and his 10-year-old daughter in a machete attack in their Pittston home claims he was wrongly convicted and the sentences are unconstitutional and too harsh for the crimes.

Daniel Fortune, now 23, is appealing his convictions and the related sentences. Oral arguments were aired Friday in a special session of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court at Lisbon High School.

The proceedings were watched by a gymnasium full of students not much younger than Fortune and his codefendant were when they entered the Pittston home of the Guerrette family and attacked them on May 27, 2008. Fortune was 20 and Leo Hylton was 18.

Rather than go to trial, Hylton pleaded guilty in May 2009 to three counts of attempted murder and one count each of burglary and robbery. He is serving a sentence of 90 years, with all but 50 years suspended.

Fortune, a former star athlete at Gardiner Area High School, was tried by a Somerset County jury and convicted in May 2010 of four counts of aggravated attempted murder, two counts of elevated aggravated assault, one each count of attempted murder, robbery, burglary, conspiracy to commit robbery and violating bail conditions.
Fortune was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences on June 24, 2010.

Kennebec County Deputy District Attorney Alan Kelley, who also prosecuted the case at trial, maintained Friday the convictions and sentences were done property.

From the start of Friday’s argument, justices focused on the severity of the sentence.
Kelley and Arnold Clark, the attorney representing Fortune in the appeal, agreed that life sentences for aggravated attempted murder were unprecedented in Maine.

Clark claims Fortune was an accomplice to Hylton, who wielded the machete, and should not be penalized more severely than Hylton simply for exercising his right to trial.

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley said the two of the Guerrettes were hacked so severely it was surprising they survived. “Why is that not enough for a court to say you should never again be free in society?” she asked.

Clark told her that imposing life sentences is “blurring the line between murder and attempted murder.” He said the circumstances of the offenses don’t warrant the life sentences.

Associate Justice Donald Alexander asked Clark what he would set for a basic sentence “for attacking a 10-year-old girl and hacking out part of her brain.”

Clark did not specify a term.

Clark also said the attacks were spontaneous.

“It’s clear from Mr. Guerrette’s description she unfortunately walked into this,” Clark said, referring to the attack on Nicole Guerrette.

“It’s not something that was premeditated.”
Fortune wants the sentences vacated and the case remanded back to the trial court for resentencing for a term of years.

Kelley told the court that the trial judge, Justice Michaela Murphy, concluded Fortune was not an accomplice, but a principal and a participant in the attack.

Kelley said William Guerrette, a former legislator who was then 48, testified his initial wound came from the left and behind him as he stared across his darkened dining room at a tall, thin black man — Hylton — who was standing still and without a weapon.

He said that blow had to come from Fortune.

Kelley said Fortune had motive for the attack —  preventing William Guerrette from testifying against him in a case where Fortune was accused of stealing a safe containing more than $100,000 worth of property and cash from the Guerrette home six months earlier.

“Without Mr. Guerrette, there was no case against (Fortune),” Kelley said.

Kelley argued that this case supports a conviction for aggravated attempted murder involving extreme cruelty, saying this was among the most heinous attacks he has seen in his decades as a prosecutor.

“I cannot think of anything that is more cruel,” he said. “It’s straight out of the horror movies, the slasher movies. It’s inconceivable this happens in real life.”

Reached at his Augusta business on Friday, William Guerrette said no members of his family were present for the oral arguments.

“As a family, we’re desperately trying to put this behind us,” he said. “We’re trying to move on with our lives. My daughter is attending school for the first time (since the attack) this year. She is a freshman at high school and struggling with the brain damage that was a result of the attack.”

Guerrette said he hopes the convictions and sentences are upheld.

“The court got it right,” he said. “They did the right thing, given his role in it.”

“He wasn’t a guy who wandered into it. He talked Leo into doing it. It’s a sad statement on Daniel Fortune’s lack of personal responsibility and his character that the mastermind, the guy that caused it all to happened it still trying to get out of it.”

Both Fortune and Hylton are serving their sentences at the Maine State Prison, according to Jody Breton, associate commissioner at the Maine Department of Corrections.

The court generally rules on appeals months after oral arguments are heard.

Betty Adams — 621-5631
[email protected]

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