ROCKLAND — A Knox County jury deliberated for more than an hour Tuesday before clearing a Tenants Harbor lobsterman accused of paying his former sternman to sink a competitor’s boat.

The jury found Alan B. Norwood Jr., 48, not guilty of felony aggravated criminal mischief in connection to the Sept. 1, 2016, sinking of the 36-foot lobster boat Oracle, owned by Joshua Hupper, off St. George.

Norwood testified Tuesday on his behalf and told jurors he never asked his then sternman Vincent Hilt to sink the boat and denied paying him $500 for the sinking.

He said Hilt had sent texts to him on the night of the sinking but that he never opened them. Norwood said Hilt would often call him or text him at night asking for pay advances. He said on the night of the sinking Hilt came to his home shortly before 2 a.m. and asked for money to buy a new cellphone to replace one lost overboard.

Norwood said he gave him $250 to $300 as an advance on his pay.

Defense attorney Steven Peterson, of Rockport, said during his closing statements the state had not proved its case and that the sinking was planned and done by Hilt.

“The state’s case is based on the addled, drug-addicted mind [of Hilt],” Peterson said in his closing statements to jurors.

Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Baroody said text messages sent to Norwood by Hilt were the rocks for the criminal case against Norwood.

The prosecutor said Hilt was the “perfect patsy” for Norwood to have someone sink the boat, which incurred damages of $170,000.

Hilt had recanted on Monday, in the presence of the jury, his earlier statements to police that Norwood had paid him $500 for the sinking. Hilt said he did it on his own because he suspected Hupper of messing with Norwood’s traps, and that was preventing Hilt from earning more money.

Baroody said Hilt had changed his statements at trial because he did not want to be considered a snitch. Hilt is serving a two-year prison term at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren.

The prosecutor pointed to the testimony of 22-year-old Devlin Meklin of Warren to bolster the state’s case during his closing arguments. Meklin, who has served a three-month sentence already, after admitting to helping Hilt sink the boat, said Hilt had told him that Norwood offered him $500 to sink the boat.

Meklin also testified Monday that he drove Hilt to Norwood’s home immediately after the sinking and Hilt went inside and came out after 15 minutes with $500 in cash.

Peterson criticized Meklin’s testimony, pointing out that both Hilt and Meklin were addicted to drugs at that time and were looking for money to buy drugs.

Hilt and Meklin pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal mischief and theft this year. The theft was the result of taking a skiff to get to Hupper’s boat.

Hilt was the first witness called to the stand Monday by the District Attorney’s Office. He is serving a 24-month prison sentence for the incident.

When asked by Baroody why he went out to Hupper’s boat and cut hoses and opened up valves to sink the boat, Hilt claimed he was upset because he suspected Hupper of messing with Norwood’s traps and that the less money Norwood earned, the less money Hilt would be paid.

Hilt said he did not recall making statements to police that incriminated Norwood.

Hilt said he had a serious drug addiction at that time and had regularly consumed crack cocaine, heroin and Xanax. He said that his drug use and brain damage from an unspecified accident make it difficult for him to remember “what I had for dinner last night, let alone something that happened a year ago.”

Hilt said he wanted money to buy drugs.

The prosecutor showed Hilt text messages that he sent via co-defendant Meklin’s cellphone that night to Norwood.

There was one text at 11:37 p.m. Aug. 31 to Norwood stating that “job will be done shortly.” Another at 12:21 a.m. Sept. 1 said the job had been done and he would be coming over for the money. Another was sent saying “one down, one to go.”

Another text was sent at 1:39 a.m. to Norwood, saying that he was outside his house and to let him in so he could get his money.

Hilt claimed on the witness stand that he could not recall sending those messages. He testified under cross-examination by Norwood’s defense attorney that he sometimes got cash advances from Norwood and that this could have been what was occurring that night.

Meklin testified that Hilt had said Norwood had initially asked him to sink two boats, but Hilt did not identify the second boat owner  that Norwood suspected of messing with his traps.

In addition to saying Norwood had not asked him to sink Hupper’s boat, Hilt had testified Monday that Meklin did not get aboard the lobster boat. Meklin testified, however, that he did get on board the boat and opened a valve to let water in.

Former Maine Marine Patrol Officer Brandon Bezio testified Monday that Norwood had contacted him a few weeks before Hupper’s boat sank to report that his traps were being cut and hauled. Bezio said Norwood had given him the names of people he suspected and Bezio had placed some marked lobsters in Norwood’s traps Aug. 24 and was going to monitor the catches brought ashore. The next few days, however, were stormy and lobstermen were not going out. Before Bezio could monitor any catches, Hupper’s boat sank.

Bezio also testified that Norwood had called him Aug. 30 to say that he suspected Hupper.

Peterson said it made no sense that Norwood would call law enforcement and then have a boat sunk. He said that Baroody’s contention that Hilt had changed his testimony to avoid being a snitch was pure speculation.

Witnesses told police last year they ran into the two young men on Mouse Island early on the morning of Sept. 1. Mouse Island is located about 200 yards from where Hupper’s boat had been moored. Police gave a photo lineup to the witnesses, who identified Hilt and Meklin as the two men on the island.

Police then picked up Hilt at his father’s home in St. George. Hilt admitted he had been offered $500 by Norwood to sink the boat, according to the affidavit filed by police in court.

Hilt told investigators that he contacted Meklin and the two stole a skiff from a float at Wildcat Lobster in Tenants Harbor and then motored out to Hupper’s lobster boat. The two went on board and cut hoses, allowing water to pour into the boat. The bilge pump had been turned off to prevent the water from being removed.

Hilt and Meklin then beached the stolen skiff on nearby Mouse Island and walked back over a causeway to where Meklin had parked his vehicle and left. The two, however, returned to Mouse Island the next morning to get the skiff they had stolen, according to the affidavit. On that trip, they ran into the witnesses who later identified them.

Hilt and Meklin towed the skiff out to the harbor, dumped the outboard motor overboard and cut it loose, according to the affidavit. The outboard motor on the skiff they were in died, however, and they had to be towed back to shore by a passing fisherman.

Justice Bruce Mallonee presided over the trial.

Mallonee denied a motion by Peterson for a directed verdict of acquittal after the prosecution rested its case Monday.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. 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.