AUGUSTA — A retired Readfield veterinarian faces a charge of elevated aggravated assault — which can carry up to 30 years’ imprisonment — for allegedly shooting her husband in the back with a 12-gauge pump shotgun loaded with birdshot as he sat Wednesday on the steps outside their Readfield home.

Sally Ann Earl-Costello, 61, was arrested after she called 911 that afternoon to say that “she had shot her husband with a shotgun on the front porch and thought he may be dead,” according to an affidavit writtem by Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office Detective John Bourque.

Bourque said when he arrived at the home, Hugh Costello, 81, was being treated by rescue personnel and Bourque saw a hole in Costello’s back as well as “a large amount of blood and tissue on the steps.”

Bourque said a pump-action shotgun was visible in the living room and that Earl-Costello said the couple had argued prior to her shooting him in the back.

The police affidavit was filed at the Capital Judicial Center, where Earl-Costello made an initial court appearance Friday to have a judge apprise her of the charge.

Judge Eric Walker set bail at $75,000 cash — as requested by the state — and said he would sign an order later in the day for a mental examination of Earl-Costello for competency and other issues.


“This obviously is a deeply troubling case,” he said. “The facts here alleged in the affidavit are brutal.” He added, “Basically she told police he made her do it.”

Walker said the affidavit indicates the shooting was “somewhat premeditated” and added, “I am deeply concerned about the safety of the public, not just Mr. Costello.”

He said that’s why “unusually high bail needs to be set.”

Earl-Costello made the court appearance by video from the Kennebec County jail in Augusta next door to the courthouse. Her attorney, J. Mitchell Flick, who represented her in court in February on a domestic violence assault charge stemming from an incident in January 2017 — again with Hugh Costello as the victim — was with her.

Earl-Costello was dressed in an orange one-piece jail uniform and kept her head bowed for much of the brief proceeding.

Flick said that both he and the prosecutor’s office “recognize that incarceration for Ms. Costello is extremely deleterious for her and her mental health,” and said a prolonged stay there would likely mean she would be hospitalized.


As the attorneys discussed the case, Earl-Costello appeared to be crying, looking down and at one point wiping her hand across her face.

She told the judge she did not need a court-appointed lawyer.

“I have my own attorney,” she said.

She also told him she understood the charge, and said she and Costello has been married for 38 years.

Assistant District Attorney Carrie James requested bail be set at $75,000 with conditions keeping Earl-Costello away from the victim and their Sturtevant Hill Road home as well as from the use and possession of alcohol and illegal drugs.

“This is a case where she shot her husband in the back,” James argued. She told Walker that Costello was taken to Central Maine Medical Center for surgery and that he remained there as of Friday. A hospital spokeswoman was not immediately available to provide an update on his condition.


James also said that Earl-Costello admitted being intoxicated at the time of the shooting as well as drinking in February, which violated a condition of her deferred disposition in the domestic violence case.

Earl-Costello originally was scheduled to be in court next week after the state sought to revoke that 12-month deferred disposition and proceed to sentencing.

Flick requested lesser bail, possibly $10,000, with a Maine Pretrial Services contract to supervise her. Flick said $75,000 cash bail was the equivalent of no bail for Earl-Costello.

“By profession she is a veterinarian who has been retired for a couple of years,” he said. “She’s been a good upstanding member of the community for a number of years.”

He told the judge that there were mental health issues involved and that he had been arranging a neuropsychological evaluation for her.

“There are suspected to be some organic issues that are going on that are impeding her judgment,” Flick said.


Flick also said there had been “a history of abuse over the years” although he said none occurred in the days leading up to the shooting. “There is a combination of a number of factors that gave rise to this,” Flick said.

Walker rejected any lesser bail. He also said that he expected the district attorney’s office to file another motion to revoke Earl-Costello’s deferred disposition based on the conduct alleged in the shooting, and that would extinguish her right to bail.

Bourque’s affidavit says that when asked why she shot her husband, Earl-Costello said “she couldn’t take it anymore and that she has suffered extensive abuse at the hands of Hugh.”

She told police that before she shot him, “she advised him she said something to the effect of he made her do it.”

Bourque said Earl-Costello was slurring her words, smelled of intoxicants, and she said she “had consumed two or three beers and stated she was drunk.”

Bourque said Earl-Costello refused to allow officers to search the residence to get the shotgun, so police monitored the home until they got a search warrant. He said police later recovered a Mossberg 12-gauge pump shotgun containing “a spent birdshot cartridge.”


Other records at the Capital Judicial Center describe Earl-Costello’s arrest on the domestic violence charge from earlier this year and include references to some apparent mental health issues involving Earl-Costello.

For a while this winter, Earl-Costello lived in an unheated camper-trailer on Walker Road in Readfield, according to troopers who interviewed her there on Feb. 7 after her husband reported that she was suicidal, according to court records.

An affidavit by Cpl. Diane Vance of the state police says Earl-Costello called her husband and “told him that she wanted him to come and get the dogs and that she didn’t want to go on.” Earl-Costello told police that she was an insomniac and depressed, and on medication but not for depression. She also told the troopers she “feared she had some cognitive impairment.”

Earl-Costello had pleaded guilty to a domestic violence assault stemming from an incident Jan. 11, 2017, in Readfield. Hugh Costello is listed as the victim in that case.

She was placed on deferred disposition Feb. 2, prohibited from using alcohol and illegal drugs and ordered to undergo substance abuse and psychological evaluation and treatment if needed. A successful completion would mean she could withdraw the guilty plea and the charge would be dismissed.

However, the state moved to terminate that agreement 11 days later, saying there were indications she had violated it by drinking alcohol on Feb. 7. She told troopers at the time she had been drinking vodka.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: