AUGUSTA — Justin Pillsbury, convicted in March of murdering Jillian T. Jones in November 2013 in Augusta, will not get a new trial.

Justice Michaela Murphy denied a defense motion for a new trial, rejecting two grounds following brief oral arguments Tuesday afternoon at the Capital Judicial Center. Murphy also presided at the trial, which ended with a guilty verdict on March 17, 2016.

Pillsbury’s attorney, Stephen Smith, argued that the prosecutor’s opening statement in that trial carried racial connotations that are “unavoidable and unacceptable” and probably affected the verdict.

Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber, in that opening statement, briefly described a scene in which Jones, 24, originally from Bingham, was punched in the head and stabbed in the back before fleeing to the bedroom and finally the bathroom, where she died after suffering 12 knife wounds.

“Why did Justin Pillsbury stab Jillian Jones to death?” Macomber asked as he stood in front of the jury in mid-March. “Because he was jealous. Jealousy’s been described as a ‘green-eyed monster.’ Well, ladies and gentlemen, on Nov. 13, 2013, that green-eyed monster was uncaged in apartment 6 at 32 Crosby St. here in Augusta.”

Defense attorney Smith argued in his motion that this was a reference to Shakespeare’s Othello, a black Moor. The prosecutor, meanwhile, said he was referring to jealousy, not race, with that comment, and that the issue raised in the motion already was raised and rejected by the judge during the trial.

Murphy on Tuesday said she was the one who initially raised the concern after the prosecutor ended his opening remarks.

“The court spent a lot of time, with the cooperation of the parties, in trying to ensure that there would be a jury that was fair and impartial, free from any racial prejudice,” Murphy said. “And the court was very concerned, given the relationship between the parties and given the fact that Mr. Pillsbury is African-American, that there would be no reference or an attempt on the part of the state to inflame the jury’s passions.”

She said she was satisfied there was no intent to prejudice the parties or inflame the jury, and that nothing rose to the level of prosecutorial misconduct, but added that it was “right on the line.”

The topic of race was raised early in the trial when potential jurors responded in writing to seven questions concerning their ability to “fairly and impartially decide” a case in which some involved people might be of a minority race. They also responded to five questions concerning their ability to decide fairly a case involving accusations of domestic violence.

In his opening statement at the trial, Macomber said Pillsbury had seized Jones’ cellphone because he believed she was in contact with another man, and she fought to retrieve it.

“Common sense and reason will tell you that when a person confesses that he repeatedly stabs another person who is a foot shorter and a hundred pounds lighter because he thinks that other person might be cheating on him and that he was not acting in self-defense when he did it, that it is almost certainly true that is in fact what happened,” Macomber said.

Pillsbury, now 41, was stabbing himself in the neck in an apparent suicide attempt when the apartment tenant returned home that night.

Pillsbury recovered and testified at his trial, saying Jones had grabbed a knife first and that he stabbed her in self-defense.

Four blood-covered knives were found in the one-bedroom apartment, three of them with Pillsbury’s DNA on them and one with a mixture of DNA from him and Jones, forensic scientists testified.

Smith also cited in his argument for a new trial the testimony of witness Brittany Kirk, of Cornville, who testified that in July 2013 she was in Pillsbury’s apartment in Benton when Pillsbury accused Jones of cheating on him and shoved her into the couch. Smith said that testimony should have been deemed inadmissible because it was inflammatory and prejudicial.

Murphy denied that argument as well, saying, “In the court’s view, the defendant was not unfairly prejudiced by that.”

At the trial, Kirk testified that Jones denied cheating on Pillsbury. However, under questioning by Smith, Kirk said she drove Jones, who did not have a driver’s license, to meet various men, but said not all those meetings were sexual encounters.

Once the 10-minute hearing finished Tuesday, she and the attorneys held a brief meeting and set Pillsbury’s sentencing hearing for July 21.

A murder conviction in Maine carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison without the possibility of release.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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