ALFRED — An Old Orchard Beach man was sentenced Tuesday to 40 years in prison for murdering his roommate last year.

Dustan Bentley, 32, did not speak or visibly react during the hearing. He pleaded guilty in February to murder for the death of 65-year-old William Popplewell. The two shared an apartment for less than three months, and the reason behind the fatal attack has never been clear.

Superior Court Justice Wayne Douglas described the killing as “savage, sustained and cruel.”

“The defendant attacked, terrorized, beat and strangled a 65-year-old man of diminished stature,” Douglas said.

The attorneys and Bentley himself appeared before the judge in person at the York County Superior Court in Alfred, sitting between plexiglass barriers and wearing masks. Family members of Popplewell and Bentley joined the hearing on video conference, their faces a row of squares on a screen in the corner of the courtroom.

The prosecutor requested the 40-year sentence, which was the highest allowed under the plea agreement. During their statements, the victim’s family asked the judge to impose that maximum penalty. His siblings and their spouses described “Billy” as gentle and kind. They recounted memories from their childhood, their brother’s love of the ocean and the way he cared for his wife when she lost her vision.

Brandi States, his niece, tearfully described her uncle as a giving person.

Dustan Bentley, who pleaded guilty in February to murdering his roommate, William Popplewell, in Old Orchard Beach last year, listens to his attorney Joseph Mekonis during Bentley’s sentencing hearing in York County Superior Court on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“(Dustan) knowingly took advantage of his giving ways. … Dustan lived with him for free, ate for free and was only asked to drive Uncle Billy to places he needed to go,” she said. “What my family is asking for is the maximum sentence and nothing less.”

The defense attorney requested a sentence of 28 years. Bentley did not make any statement to the court, but his mother briefly spoke to ask the judge for leniency. She described how she felt when her son called her and told her he killed his roommate.

“My son, I’ve never known him to have a mean bone in his body ever,” Diane Bentley said. “The night he called, I was in so much disbelief. I’m still in shock.”

Douglas summarized the evidence in the case before he imposed the sentence.

Investigators said Bentley and Popplewell met at a Portland homeless shelter two years before the older man’s death. Bentley moved into Popplewell’s apartment at the Ocean Condos building in December 2018.

On March 18, 2019, an Old Orchard Beach police officer went to the apartment to deliver copies of summonses to Bentley for unrelated traffic offenses. Bentley was dripping sweat when he opened the door and claimed he had been cleaning. Douglas said an upstairs neighbor later reported that Bentley was shouting and raging for hours that afternoon.

Later that night, Bentley’s mother reported to police that her son called her and told her he killed his roommate. Officers returned to the apartment and found a car near the door with the truck open and lined with a shower curtain. They found Bentley inside the apartment hallway near Popplewell’s body, which was wrapped in plastic trash bags.

 

Bentley gave conflicting statements about what happened. He told police that Popplewell attacked him with a knife, but acknowledged that the other man was in poor health and used a walker. He also said his roommate must have fallen on the knife during their fight, and that he did not call 911 himself because there was no cellphone service in the apartment.

An autopsy determined Popplewell died from blunt force trauma, multiple sharp force injuries and ligature strangulation.

“The murder of William Popplewell was done with great violence, was done over an extended period of time,” Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam said Tuesday. “And Mr. Popplewell himself was an especially vulnerable victim.”

Justice Douglas also shared previously unknown details about Bentley. He described his young life “raised in a family beset by substance abuse and deprivation.” At age 11, the state removed Bentley from his home. Douglas said he moved to different foster placements at least 20 times over the next four years.

Bentley lived in North Carolina for some time as a teenager and later moved back to Maine. He has a history of convictions for theft and burglary, and he often camped outside or stayed at a shelter. Douglas said Bentley was in treatment at a methadone clinic when he befriended Popplewell, and he gave rides to the older man when they lived together.

The judge also said Bentley has a documented history of mental illness dating back to at least his adolescence and has been hospitalized multiple times. Defense attorney Joe Mekonis has previously said he considered a defense of abnormal state of mind, but no doctor would support it. Douglas also said a forensic exam found that Bentley was capable of goal-directed behavior at the time he killed Popplewell and was competent to stand trial.

“The law doesn’t have to show sympathy, but the law does account for mercy,” Mekonis said Tuesday as he argued for a lesser sentence.

Douglas said he did consider the defendant’s chaotic upbringing as a mitigating factor in his sentencing. He also credited Bentley for deciding to plead guilty and spare the victim’s family a trial. But he offered one piece of advice, citing the repeated lies Bentley told about having served in the military and his conflicting stories to police.

“This to me reflects a fundamental vein or tendency in Mr. Bentley of dishonesty,” Douglas said. “Do I give that much weight? No, I don’t, but I say that because I think for his sake going forward, he will need to be honest with himself and other people.”

Bentley has the right to petition the court to appeal his sentence.

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