SKOWHEGAN — A Skowhegan man was sentenced to four years in prison Friday for the motor vehicle death of a Starks man the night before Thanksgiving in 2013.

Mark Bussell, 39, pleaded guilty to a single charge of manslaughter earlier this month in the death of James Murphy, 67, of Starks.

The accident happened on Norridgewock Road in Fairfield.

Somerset County Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen accepted the plea agreement between Bussell and the district attorney’s office, which called for a prison sentence of 10 years with all but the four years suspended. He will also serve four years of probation once he is released and has restrictions regarding the use of alcohol and contact with Murphy’s family.

Citing Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald Alexander, Mullen told the courtroom Friday afternoon that “we are a compassionate society,” one that does not attempt to harm one another, but sometimes reckless behavior can lead to tragedy.

Such was the case that November night, Mullen said.


“We can’t undo the past,” he said. “We can not make up what is lost.”

Mullen added that no imposed sentence can replace the loss of life and that the value of life can not be measured in time spent as punishment in prison.

He said it was a fair and appropriate sentence. Bussell doesn’t have a criminal record, and he took responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty and not forcing a trial that was sure to be painful for Murphy’s friends and family members, Mullen added. He said Bussell’s conduct since the accident also gave strength to a compromise plea agreement.

A charge of operating under the influence was dismissed as part of the deal.

On Nov. 27, 2013, Murphy, 67, was driving north on Norridgewock Road in Fairfield when Bussell’s truck hit his 1998 Subaru Outback head-on. He was pronounced dead at the scene. According to police, Bussell’s truck had crossed the center line.

District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said Bussell had a blood-alcohol content of more than 0.08 — the legal limit for intoxication — but would not give further details.


Bussell was arrested in June 2014 on charges of manslaughter and aggravated criminal operating under the influence, more than six months after the accident.

His lawyer, John Martin, of Skowhegan, said Bussell was remorseful. Bussell, dressed in a dark-checkered, open-collar shirt, blue jeans and work boots, offered no comment to the court or to the nine friends and family members present for the sentencing Friday.

Mullen said he studied sentencing guidelines under Maine law and considered victim impact letters presented earlier to the court. He also read Murphy’s obituary aloud in its entirety.

“The victim impact statements were very helpful to me,” Mullen said.

According to the letters, Murphy was a graduate of Boston University with a degree in chemistry who worked as a hospital chemist and phlebotomist in a number of hospitals, including Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington. The oldest of 10 children, he was originally from Massachusetts and moved to Starks in 1990 when he bought a dairy farm. A member of the local historical society and the town’s appeals board, Murphy was voted the town’s Citizen of the Year in 2012.

Murphy was a member of MOFGA — the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association — and started a community garden in Starks. He also started a municipal agriculture commission shortly before his death.


On Friday afternoon outside the courtroom, Murphy’s family and friends, including Betty Austin, chairwoman of the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen, said they were made aware of the plea agreement before Friday’s sentencing. They said they hope Bussell will turn his life around.

“More than anything, if Jim was here, he would want him to straighten out his life and do something worthwhile for society,” Austin said. “That’s the kind of guy he was.”

Murphy’s sister, Jean Ann Ladabauche, of North Attleboro, Massachusetts, agreed.

“We knew what the judge was going to do with the plea, so we weren’t surprised,” she said. “I can live with it. I hope he changes his life around, like Betty said. That would be the main thing for all of us, that he learned something from this — in a good way.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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