A former Bangor man blames a politically polarized climate fueled by racially charged statements by the governor and others for an aggravated assault conviction in an October 2016 attack in Augusta that left a woman blind in one eye.

Oral arguments in the appeal by Terrence N. Townes, 50, were heard Thursday by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, in a session at the Cumberland County Courthouse.

Townes, who is serving the initial 12 years of his 25-year sentence at the Maine State Prison, did not attend the argument.

His attorney, Marina Sideris, maintains that the trial court’s rulings should have been changed.

She challenged Townes’ conviction on three grounds: the fact that the judge told jurors that Townes’ attorneys were from Portland at a time when the governor and others had made racially charged statements. She noted that the attorneys were “representing an African-American man on trial for a crime of violence in Augusta.”

Townes was tried in Augusta and convicted on Dec. 21, 2017, and was sentenced a month later.

Sideris also said the state provided evidence very late that should have been given to the defense sooner, such as victim Karla Lilley’s statements in the ambulance and the fact that an eye-witness was legally blind at the time of the attack.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Donald Alexander asked what effect an attorney’s Portland residence would have on jurors in Augusta. “Do you think Portland is that badly viewed by the rest of the state?”

Sideris said, “No.” But added, “It should have been defense counsels’ decision how to identify themselves to a jury.”

Associate Supreme Court Justice Ellen Gorman told Sideris that the reference by the governor concerned how to treat people from other countries who are coming to Maine.

Sedaris also maintains the jury should have been more diverse, and that brought a question from Chief Justice Leigh Saufley: “How do we constitute jurors in a state where diversity is arriving but is not here in any substantial numbers yet?”

Sedaris suggested collecting demographic information about prospective jurors similar to that requested on a federal juror questionnaire.

Those questions include race, ethnicity, sex and whether the potential juror can read, write and speak English.

Associate Justice Jeffrey Hjelm said people are called for jury duty because they have a state driver’s license or identification card. “The juror-gathering process is race neutral; it is race blind,” he told Sideris.

The justices noted that the trial judge sanctioned the prosecution for some discovery violations by dismissing one count of the indictment charging Townes with assault on Augusta Police Officer Brad Chase who was kicked in the chest while putting Townes in the back of a cruiser and by refusing to allow the statements on the ambulance run sheets to be used at trial.

Deputy District Attorney Tyler LeClair, who prosecuted the cases at the trial stage, asked that Townes’ conviction remain. LeClair said that in order to vacate it, the Law Court would have to conclude that the effect of the rulings was so significant that Townes was deprived of a fair trial.

The justices asked what had changed in the district attorney’s office to prevent similar problems with evidence coming in late in a case.

LeClair said the office has instituted a new file-sharing program that includes all police reports and other investigation materials and allows the defense attorney access to everything there as well.

The charges resulted after Townes assaulted property manager Lilley with a fire extinguisher on Oct. 24, 2016, as she was trying to get him to leave the premises at 53 Water St., Augusta.

Justice Michaela Murphy, in sentencing Towes, described her conclusions about what happened that day: “He started the melee; she did her best to defend herself,” Murphy said.

Lilley opted to keep her damaged eye and wears a prosthetic cover over it.

After the sentencing, Townes was later ordered to serve an additional year behind bars for violating conditions of release by making a hand gesture at Lilley at a court proceeding.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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