NORRIDGEWOCK — A local farmer who was sent to prison in 2012 on kidnapping and other charges was found dead Thursday after police said he was pinned under a piece of farm equipment.

Francis Gordon Smith III, 56, was pinned under a New Holland manure spreader at his home on the Ward Hill Road in Norridgewock, according to the Somerset County Sheriff’s office. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

James Ross, chief deputy at the sheriff’s office, confirmed Friday morning that Smith was the same man who pleaded guilty to kidnapping, criminal threatening, terrorizing and assault charges for taking a hostage at a Jay paper mill in March of that year.

Smith, then 51, was sentenced in Nov. 2012 to 12 years in prison, with all but five years suspended. Upon his release, he was to serve six years’ probation.

A spokeswoman at the Maine State Prison in Warren said Friday morning that Smith was released from the Charleston Correctional Facility, now called Mountain View Correctional Facility, on April 29, 2016. He was released to the office of probation, she said.

Smith’s lawyer at the time, Walter McKee, of Augusta, said Smith was severely depressed about losing his job at the mill after having worked there for almost 25 years. Smith held the mill manager hostage in his office at Verso Paper’s Androscoggin Mill in Jay for more than six hours on March 14.

McKee said when Smith arrived at the mill about 9 a.m. the day of the incident, the shotgun and handgun he brought were not loaded.

After loading the weapons, according to McKee, Smith asked Marc Connor, the mill manager, to kill him.

In Norridgewock this week, Ross said it appears that Smith was working to repair the equipment when the front tongue jack, which appears to have not been properly pinned in place, rotated and caused the spreader to fall on him.

He said members of the Norridgewock Fire Department used a hydraulic extrication tool to lift the equipment off Smith.

Emergency Medical Services from Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan determined that Smith was deceased at the scene.

Authorities do not know exactly when the accident happened, but family members who discovered the accident said they had not seen or spoken to Smith since Monday. The State Medical Examiner’s Office was notified.

A long driveway from Ward Hill Road to Smith’s residence was blocked Friday with a wire chain across the narrow dirt road. A house was not visible from the road.

Smith’s next door neighbor, Howard Dearden, 81, said he thought Smith lived alone, which he said could have accounted for the fact that he had not been heard from since Monday, as police have said.

“He tended to his own affairs up there on his farm,” Dearden said of Smith, whom he called Frank. “He was a very hard worker. As far as I know he was by himself and I think that’s the tragedy of the whole thing — he might have been up there and something happened and nobody’s around to help him.”

Dearden said he knew of Smith’s troubles with the law and his prison time, but they didn’t speak of it. He said things had changed for Smith since his release and he thought Smith was “doing real good.”

Before sentencing in November 2012, Smith read from a statement that he was a different person at the time of the crime. He asked Justice Michaela Murphy to “remember the good Francis” who would not commit those crimes and said there was “absolutely no chance of there being repeat behavior.”

Murphy said it is rare for her to give probation to someone who committed serious crimes such as Smith’s, but she felt there was evidence he was remorseful and would use probation to get any help he needed.

“I often do not offer probation when there has been serious conduct, but I’m confident he would take advantage of those opportunities in probation,” she said.

Dearden said he doesn’t know why Smith lost his job at the paper mill, but knew that he had become very despondent after that.

“He reacted that way, which is not the right way, but that’s what happened and he paid for it,” he said. “It’s very sad. I think he could have had some more breaks.”

Smith’s family members could not be found Friday for comment on Smith. A sign outside the Ward Hill Road farm advertised “portable sawmill for hire” with a phone number. No one answered the phone. A voice mail message offered the caller a cell phone number. No one answered that number either.

In 2012, District Attorney Andrew Robinson in Franklin County said that Connor, the Verso mill manager, reported that there were three moments when he thought he was going to be killed.

Robinson said Smith held a handgun to Connor’s head and forced him into a chair during the incident. After negotiating with police over the phone, Smith released Connor, then, nearly nine hours later, left the office.

Verso Paper attorney David Barry said at the sentencing hearing that Smith’s crime inflicted “many levels of profound damage” that caused emotional distress to the employees and hurt the mill financially.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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