James Sweeney communicates with an American Sign Language interpreter prior to Sweeney’s sentencing in Franklin County Superior Court in Farmington on Wednesday morning.

FARMINGTON — A Franklin County judge sentenced a former Jay man to 38 years in prison Wednesday for killing his former girlfriend at the house they shared in Jay.

Wendy Douglass, 51, was bludgeoned to death July 11, 2017.

Justice William Stokes found James E. “Ted” Sweeney, 58, guilty of murder Feb. 1 after a five-day bench trial in January. Sweeney has been in custody since he turned himself in July 11, 2017, at the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn.

Sweeney hit Douglass at least three times in the head with a bat at about 5:30 a.m. while she slept in her bed in a first-floor bedroom at her house at 5 Jewell St.

Douglass called a halt to the relationship in June 2017, but allowed Sweeney to stay at the house. He slept upstairs in another bedroom. The two had been in a relationship for about 10 years.

Stokes told the court in February that Sweeney “knowingly and deliberately struck Douglass in the face and head three times with sufficient force and violence to cause multiple fractures of the face and skull and extensive bleeding from multiple lacerations.”

James Sweeney enters Franklin County Superior Court in Farmington on Wednesday morning for his sentencing.

Sweeney pleaded not criminally responsible by reason of insanity in October 2018. He had some mental health issues that were likely exacerbated by his deafness, according to previous testimony. An expert for the defense concluded that Sweeney had schizophrenia, but a state expert said he had post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder. Medical records for Sweeney also indicated depression.

The court found beyond a reasonable doubt that when Sweeney struck Douglass in the head multiple times with the bat, he was aware it was practically certain that his actions would cause her death.

Prior to sentencing, Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam argued for 55 years in prison, while defense attorney Walter Hanstein argued for 25 years.

The state had argued Sweeney knew what he was doing when he hit Douglass with the bat. The defense had argued Sweeney was delusional about Douglass cheating on him, even though everyone said it was not true. They also argued he lacked the capacity to know what he was doing.

Elam said Douglass was a kind person who let Sweeney live at her house.

“Her kindness to him was rewarded with violence,” she said.

Elam spoke of the condition in which investigators found Douglass’ body. Her shirt was pulled up above her breasts and the rest of her body was naked.

“This was Ted Sweeney’s last attempt to humiliate Wendy” so she would be found that way by strangers, Elam said.  “This crime was committed in a place you were supposed to be safe — in your home.”

Douglass’ daughter Jessica Douglass said she has been suffering from “hellish” nightmares since her mother died and has post-traumatic stress disorder because of what her mother went through. Her sense of safety and security are gone, she said.

“I will forever be reminded of her death,” Jessica Douglass said. “It was the same day as my birthday.”

Her mother will miss out on her and her brother’s futures, she said.

She told the court Sweeney deserved to be in prison for the rest of his life.

“He should never get a chance to hurt someone else,” she said.

One of two posters relatives of Wendy Douglass put together for her memorial service were brought to the Franklin County Courthouse during Wednesday morning’s sentencing of James “Ted” Sweeney who was sentenced to 38 years in prison for killing her.

Cynthia Mulhern of Litchfield, who is Wendy Douglass’ mother, said her daughter put on meals at the Methodist Church in Readfield. She was an organizer and often helped others in that capacity. She gave rides to people. She was a matter-of-fact person. One never had to guess where she was coming from, Mulhern said.

Mulhern also said her daughter had helped Sweeney in many ways, including getting his land straightened out and getting his driver’s license. She had also become a mother to his son.

C0-defense attorney Walter Hanstein read a letter from Sweeney to the court. In it, Sweeney wrote he loves Douglass and she was a good woman. He apologized for having caused her death.

Hanstein said there was never any doubt who killed Douglass. Sweeney turned himself in to the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn and gave police a note that he had hurt her and they needed to check on her.

Her death was senseless and sorrowful, Hanstein said. He noted the judge did not find Sweeney guilty of intentionally causing her death.

Hanstein said there was a letter to the court from a woman and friend of Douglass that mentioned they were sitting on a deck about 10 days before Wendy’s death, and Wendy told her she still loved Sweeney.

Stokes said he “was simply not persuaded that he did not know what he was doing.”

This was a relationship of domestic violence that was building. It must have been horrible for Wendy to see the man she loved did not trust her and confronted  her, Stokes said.

Testimony during the trial showed Sweeney wore disguises and borrowed family members’ cars to spy on her.

Justice William Stokes explains how he came up with the sentence for James Sweeney.

Stokes said he could not shake the belief that Sweeney’s mental illness influenced his changing behavior six to nine months before Douglass’ death.

“You didn’t just commit knowing murder,” Stokes said Wednesday. “You didn’t just take a life. You took people’s memories, future memories. The sad part, the irony of this, is she did love you and you killed her.”

Stokes told Jessica Douglass and Mulhern: “I am very sorry for your pain you have gone through. The pain never stops. The ripple effect goes on and on.”


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