AUGUSTA — Sally Ann Earl-Costello, 62, admits she shot her husband in the back with a 12-gauge pump shotgun at their Readfield home and that it was “horrible, unthinkable, terrible, criminal.”

She apologized Thursday during her sentencing hearing at the Capital Judicial Center, saying she still loves her husband of 38 years.

“With these hands that I devoted to a life of healing, I caused unspeakable harm,” said Earl-Costello, a former veterinarian. “And to say that I’m deeply remorseful doesn’t even begin to scratch the pain within me,” she said.

Hugh Costello, 82, who walked with a cane even before the shooting, spoke at his wife’s hearing as well, saying he has forgiven her, still loves her and wants contact with her.

However, she is going to prison. Justice Michaela Murphy sentenced Earl-Costello on Thursday at the Capital Judicial Center to five years behind bars. The remainder of the 15-year sentence will be suspended while she spends four years on probation.

Her husband said his wife was suffering from alcoholism and depression and was very drunk last May when she pulled the trigger. He does not recall getting shot.

After the court hearing, he lamented the length of Earl-Costello’s sentence partly because of his own age. “If we wait five years, I will be 87 years old when she gets out, and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to live that long.” He had asked that his wife serve her sentence in a mental hospital, something the judge told him was not possible in this case.

“I miss having my wife being nearby and able to talk with me,” he said.

The couple’s daughter attended the hearing but submitted a written statement and did not address the judge during the hearing.

Earl-Costello turned to her husband in court and said, “By the grace of God my husband is alive to hear these words, and I am so thankful for that.” She said she still doesn’t fully recall what happened. “I was in a state of desolation, despair I can’t even begin to describe,” she said. “I was hopeless, helpless.”

She said she would do everything possible to get better.

She too asked Murphy to lift the ban on contact between her and her husband. “I beg you, please, to give me a chance, to give Hugh and I a chance,” she said.

Murphy agreed to allow written contact between the couple but warned them that the prison administration could decide against it.

Costello called 911 on May 17, 2017, to report the shooting and said she thought her husband might be dead.

She later told police the couple had argued, and he was sitting on the front porch steps of their Sturtevant Hill Road home when she fired the shotgun — loaded with bird shot — at his back after she opened the door.

Costello recovered from the shooting and has been in the courtroom during almost all of the hearings involving his wife.

She pleaded guilty April 3 to a charge of elevated aggravated assault, which carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison. The judge explained on Thursday that because a firearm was used in the offense, state law requires a mandatory four-year minimum imprisonment.

The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Frayla Tarpinian, recommended a sentence of 18 years, with an initial 10 years to be served immediately, followed by six years’ probation.

“The conduct itself is just very heinous,” she said. “She stepped out on that porch and shot him.”

Tarpinian said Costello still has birdshot inside him from being hit at point-blank range.

Tarpinian said there was still a question about why Earl-Costello committed the offense. “She does not have a major mental illness,” Tarpinian said, adding that Earl-Costello had been drinking heavily that day and was suffering from insomnia. Earl-Costello underwent psychological evaluations.

At the time of the shooting, Earl-Costello had been under a deferred disposition after she pleaded guilty to domestic violence assault that occurred Jan. 11, 2017, in Readfield. The victim in that assault was her husband as well.

She was placed on deferred disposition Feb. 2, 2017, prohibited from using alcohol and illegal drugs and ordered to undergo substance abuse and psychological evaluation and treatment if needed. A successful completion would have meant 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, 2017. She told troopers at the time she had been drinking vodka.

Earl-Costello’s defense attorney, J. Mitchell Flick, asked the judge to impose the minimum mandatory sentence, saying this was a tragic event. “It’s clearly a combination of factors which just kind of reached a critical mass and she just lost it,” he said. “She wasn’t able to control her impulses, and she pulled the trigger with the gun pointed at her husband.”

After the hearing, he said he understood why Murphy imposed more than the minimum.

“The prior deferred disposition caused her to click it up a notch,” he said. “I am thankful; the judge could have imposed more.”

Records at the Capital Judicial Center describe Earl-Costello’s arrest on the elevated aggravated assault charge and include references to mental health problems involving Earl-Costello.

For a while that winter, Earl-Costello lived in an unheated camper-trailer on Walker Road in Readfield, according to troopers who interviewed her there Feb. 7, 2017, after her husband reported that she was suicidal.

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.”

Hugh Costello on Thursday told the judge that both he and his wife had doctors’ appointments set on the day of the shooting to undergo mental evaluations. He said he returned from his appointment, and Earl-Costello had been drinking and said she was not going to keep her appointment. Costello said he called the nurse at the office and asked the nurse to arrange for a police escort to the doctor’s office, and was sitting on the front steps to wait when he was shot.

“I had previously promised my wife I wouldn’t call the police to interfere with our domestic affairs,” he told the judge.

Earl-Costello’s license to practice veterinary medicine in the state expired Sept. 30, 2017, because of a failure to renew, according to the website of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. She was first licensed to practice in Maine in 1999, according to the same site.

Several of Earl-Costello’s longtime friends, including one from the Canadian province of Ontario, came to speak to the judge on her behalf, as did a former colleague from when she worked at Annabessacook Veterinary Clinic in Monmouth and a pastor who has worked with her while she’s been in the Kennebec County jail.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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