Investigators from the Maine State Police try to extract evidence from the side of the apartment building at the corner of Gold and Summer streets in Waterville in the early hours of Feb. 29, 2020, after a child was shot the afternoon prior. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

A Mercer man pleaded guilty Friday to a felony assault charge in connection with a drive-by shooting last year in Waterville that injured a 7-year-old girl who was struck by a bullet in her bedroom.

Gavin Tyler Loabe was both the shooter and driver in the crime, according to authorities. The 19-year-old Loabe wasn’t sentenced by Justice William Stokes at the Capital Judicial Center on Friday, but state prosecutors and Loabe’s defense attorney, Lisa Whittier, have agreed the sentence will be capped at a maximum of 15 years in prison.

Gavin T. Loabe

Prosecutor Christopher Coleman, an assistant district attorney, said the state was prepared to hold the sentencing for Loabe on Friday but Whittier said she was not, and both she and Stokes said the sentencing should take place in person. Whittier and Loabe appeared by video camera while the state prosecution was in the courtroom.

Whittier said Loabe had family members who want to be able to attend his sentencing. No family members, of either the defendant or victim, spoke during Friday’s court session.

“I’d not want to do sentencing today; I think the charge is too serious,” Stokes said in court Friday. “Mr. Loabe is entitled to have me give some thought to this and I don’t want to be in a position where I’m making decisions of this magnitude (via video), and Mr. Loabe shouldn’t be in that position, either. With something like this, I don’t want to fly by the seat of my pants.”

Still left to be determined next month — and likely argued over by both sides — is how much of that 15-year sentence will be suspended. Prosecutors agreed to suspend five years of that sentence, while the mandatory minimum sentence is four years, so Loabe is expected to serve between four and 10 years in prison. That will be determined May 26 by Stokes after he listens to arguments from both sides.

If Loabe, who appeared in court by video feed from jail where he remains in custody, violates the terms of his four-year probation, he could be subject to the full 15-year sentence.

Coleman said five bullets struck the 42 Summer St. apartment building in Waterville the afternoon of Feb. 28, 2020, with one of them going through then-7-year-old Emahleeah Frost’s bedroom window and into her chest, lodging in between two of her vertebrae in her back, where it remains. She was in the hospital for nearly a week and while her family has said late last year she has recovered she still felt pain in her chest when she exerted herself.

A security camera in the area captured footage of a vehicle, moments before the shooting, accelerating in the area, then five shots are heard, followed by the same vehicle again accelerating. That vehicle, a distinctive black pickup truck, was later traced back to the ownership of Loabe’s father, Richard, and could also be seen in the background of Loabe’s Facebook page, which was listed under a last name other than Loabe.

Waterville police, in March of last year, arrested Loabe on a Class A felony count of elevated aggravated assault, which Stokes said is in the state’s highest class of crime, other than murder charges, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Loabe, according to Coleman, shot up the 42 Summer St. apartment building because he mistakenly believed another man lived there, which he did not. The man had supposedly texted Loabe’s girlfriend, flirting with her and angering Loabe, who saw the text.

A second suspect, Jeremiah Gamblin, 21, of China, was arrested in September and also charged with elevated aggravated assault, and an additional charge of assault, in the case.

He was charged as an accomplice to the crime, under “accomplice liability” law in Maine that means an accomplice in a crime can be charged with the same crime as the primary perpetrator.

Gamblin pleaded guilty in September via a video feed into the courthouse from jail, to a lesser Class C charge of assault as part of a plea agreement. But after some confusion and Gamblin saying he had a hard time hearing and felt he had been pressured into that guilty plea, the online court session was halted. He appeared in court in person later that day and withdrew his guilty plea.

Coleman and Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, said Gamblin is currently scheduled for trial, on the elevated aggravated assault charge, which Maloney said is likely to be ready for the court docket in May.

Gamblin told police, Coleman testified in court Friday, that he begged Loabe to not go through with the shooting, including while waiting together in a construction parking lot near 42 Summer St. just before the shooting.

The gun was not recovered.

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