Attorneys for Justin Pillsbury, convicted almost a year ago in the stabbing death of his girlfriend, Jillian T. Jones, in an Augusta apartment, say he deserves a new trial because a prosecutor’s description of him “could only serve to inflame the passion and bias of the jury against Mr. Pillsbury.”

The prosecution says the murder conviction should stand.

Oral arguments in Pillsbury’s appeal are scheduled to be heard by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court at 1:30 p.m. April 13 at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta.

Pillsbury’s defense attorneys argue that an opening statement by the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber, referring to a “green-eyed monster” was improper.

The brief quotes Macomber’s remarks as they appear in the trial transcript: “(J)ealousy has been described as a green-eyed monster. Well, ladies and gentlemen, on Nov. 13, 2013, that green-eyed monster was uncaged at apartment six of 32 Crosby St. here in Augusta.”

Jones’ body was found slumped against the bathroom wall in the Crosby Street apartment of Michael St. Pierre. Pillsbury and Jones, 24, who grew up in Bingham and was attending cosmetology school in Waterville, had been staying with St. Pierre so Pillsbury could be closer to his job in Augusta.

Justice Michaela Murphy denied Smith’s request for a mistrial early the next day but warned the prosecutor against commenting in closing arguments on people being monsters that are uncaged.

The defense raised the issue again shortly after Pillsbury was convicted, and was again denied after a hearing presided over by the trial judge.

Macomber said he took the phrase from Shakespeare’s play “Othello.”

In an email sent at that time, Macomber denied any racial overtones in the “green-eyed monster” comment.

“It was clear to the jury that I was referring to the defendant’s jealousy and not to his race,” Macomber wrote. “This issue was already raised by the defense during the trial, and the court rejected the defense motion for mistrial at that time.”

Pillsbury is serving 50 years in prison for the slaying of Jones, who was 24.

Pillsbury, through defense attorneys Stephen Smith and Caleb Gannon, says the trial judge should have granted the his request for a new trial.

The state prosecutors, in a brief filed with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, say the denial was proper “because the interests of justice did not require vacating the conviction.”

Concerns about racial bias among potential jurors preceded juror selection at Pillsbury’s murder trial.

“Discussions occurred in (judge’s) chambers regarding the issue of race because Mr. Pillsbury is African-American and Ms. Jones was Caucasian,” the defense brief says. In fact, a questionnaire distributed to the jury pool was designed to address that issue.

There were seven questions concerning their ability to “fairly and impartially decide” a case in which those involved 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.

The defense also argues in the appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that Murphy should have disallowed testimony from Brittany Kirk, who spoke about witnessing Pillsbury and Jones argue in July 2013 in Pillsbury’s Benton home. Kirk testified that Pillsbury accused Jones of cheating on him and Pillsbury shoved Jones onto a couch.

The prosecutor said the judge properly permitted the testimony to show the couple’s relationship. “The court further found that the prejudicial nature of the evidence was significantly lessened because Pillsbury was allowed to introduce evidence about a similar incident from the same time period in which the victim was the alleged aggressor towards Pillsbury.”

Both those incidents formed an earlier request for a new trial that Murphy denied.

Smith’s brief asks the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to review the “green-eyed monster” statement, saying it was prosecutorial misconduct and harmful. “The effect of the prosecutor’s statements was to inflame the bias or prejudice of the jury,” it says, and to discredit the defense claim Pillsbury acted in self-defense.

“Much like Othello or King Kong, Mr. Pillsbury was depicted as a violent, aggressive, sub-human creature who escaped from his cage on a rampage to harm a white woman,” Smith’s brief says.

The prosecutor says jealousy motivated Pillsbury to grab Jones’ phone and to search it to see whom she had been contacting and whether she was cheating on him. The encounter escalated after Jones grabbed a knife to try to force Pillsbury to return the phone.

At the trial, Gannon showed jurors Jones’ knife, which he said was covered in Pillsbury’s blood.

Macomber, also at trial, said Pillsbury stabbed Jones 12 times after punching her in the head and slamming her against the sink. Macomber said she was stabbed in the back, but the fatal wounds were two in the neck.

Pillsbury then attempted suicide by stabbing himself in the neck.

The state supreme court is sitting in Augusta for one day only during its April session and will hear arguments in the refurbished large courtroom on the second floor of the Kennebec County Courthouse, which is accessed through the Capital Judicial Center on Court Street.

The justices are scheduled to hear oral arguments in five other cases as well.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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