AUGUSTA — A New York man pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of murder and robbery in connection with the beating death of an Augusta man in a city apartment on Nov. 23, 2015.

But the pleas only came after an unusual exchange that began with Aubrey Armstrong’s silence after the judge asked if that was his name.

“Sorry, your honor, identification’s going to be an issue in this case,” said Armstrong’s defense attorney, Brad Grant, after holding up a finger to stop his client from speaking. “I object to any comments or requests of my client.”

“So how am I supposed to arraign your client, Mr. Grant?” asked Judge Eric Walker.

“Because I believe arraignment is, ‘Are you aware of the nature of the charges against you and how do you plead, not as to who he is,” Grant responded.

Reached by phone after the hearing, Grant further explained the reason for Armstrong’s refusal to identify himself: “My client was just exercising his right to remain silent and holding the state to their burden of proof in regard to each and every element he’s charged with.” Grant added that he has done that previously in connection with other people brought to Maine as fugitives from justice.

Armstrong, 28, of Queens, New York, is one of four people charged in the killing of Joseph Marceau, 31, whose body was found in a Washington Street apartment formerly occupied by two of the suspects. Authorities said Marceau was beaten to death, and no knives or firearms were involved. Police have not released any other details about what they think happened the night he died, although investigators have said Marceau’s death was a drug-related homicide.

Armstrong had been arrested in New York almost a year ago on the Maine charges, but he has been serving a sentence on a New York conviction for third-degree criminal sale of controlled substances. Records of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision indicate Armstrong has been housed most recently at Southport Correctional Facility, in Pine City, New York.

On Friday in court, the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General John Nathans, told the judge, “Mr. Armstrong has been identified on numerous occasions here with respect to the Interstate Compact and Detention Act for the purposes of acquiring him from the state of New York, where he was being held on a prior conviction as the named Aubrey Armstrong as charged, with the same date of birth.”

Grant, after objecting to his client identifying himself, said he didn’t want Armstrong to say anything in court other than “not guilty.”

Walker, the judge, said he should have been made aware earlier of the issue involving identification.

“This kind of puts me in a difficult spot, springing this on me,” Walker said. Then he proceeded to conduct the arraignment, and at one point described Armstrong as “Mr. Defendant.”

At the close of the hearing, Grant apologized to Walker for failing to tell him earlier that identification would be an issue.

Armstrong ultimately said “not guilty” three times via video link to the Capital Judicial Center from the Kennebec County jail, where he had arrived Tuesday. Armstrong, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit at the hearing, also told the judge several times, “I understand,” when asked about his rights — although he seemed hesitant to say anything at all until the judge prompted him further.

Armstrong was indicted on three charges: intentional or knowing or depraved indifference murder, felony murder and robbery, all of which allegedly occurred Nov. 23, 2015, in Augusta.

Grant initially had requested to have the arraignment done in person in the courtroom. However, Walker said he intended to do it as a video hearing, and Nathans asked that it go forward as planned.

Two of Marceau’s family members were in the courtroom to watch the arraignment on a monitor. The victim/witness advocate accompanying them said they did not want to comment.

Maine State Police Detective Ryan Brockway, the chief investigator in the case, was in the courtroom as well.

Grant said he wanted to reserve the right to argue for bail later, and Nathans said the state is seeking a Harnish bail hearing, in which the state can seek to take away a defendant’s right to bail. Walker ordered Armstrong held without bail until that hearing can be scheduled.

Grant also said he had filed an objection to Armstrong’s case being joined with the two other co-defendants remaining.

Walker said that could be addressed later and noted that a conference with the attorneys in the case is scheduled for July 31 with Justice Daniel Billings.

The murder case is scheduled to go to trial in November in Augusta.

One of the other defendants, Zina Marie Fritze, 27, of Augusta, who had been living in the apartment where Marceau’s body was found, died on Jan. 27, 2016, in the Kennebec County jail a day after pleading not guilty to the charges. She was found unresponsive and hanging from a bed sheet in her cell. At the time, jail officials said Fritze had not been considered to be a significant threat to herself.

Michael Sean McQuade, 46, of Augusta, who also had been living in the apartment, and Damik Davis, 27, of New York, face the same charges as Armstrong: intentional or knowing or depraved indifference murder, felony murder and robbery. McQuade and Davis both pleaded not guilty and are being held at the Kennebec County jail without bail.

Around 8 p.m. Nov. 23, 2015, neighbors reported a disturbance in a fourth-floor apartment at 75 Washington St.

Augusta police and a state police dog searched the neighborhood, and Davis was arrested a short time later. Police originally had questioned Fritze and McQuade two days after Marceau’s body was found, but they had been released without charges.

Armstrong was not identified publicly as a suspect until February 2016, and he fought extradition to Maine.

Marceau, who had lived earlier in Gardiner, lived at the time of the crime about a mile away in an apartment on Winthrop Street.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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