Joseph Eaton walks into a courtroom at West Bath District Court for his arraignment on Friday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The man who has confessed to killing four people, including his parents, in Bowdoin and wounding three strangers on Interstate 295 in April entered insanity pleas at his arraignment Friday afternoon.

Joseph Eaton, 34, wearing a dark blue prison uniform, stood in front of a crowded Sagadahoc County courtroom just after 1 p.m. and listened as Judge Daniel Billings listed the 27 charges filed against him, including four counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder with the use of a firearm, and nine counts of theft of a firearm. Eaton entered pleas of not guilty and not criminally responsible to each one.

Under state law, a plea of not criminally responsible because of insanity could result in two trials: one to decide guilt, and a second, held only if Eaton is found guilty in the first, to decide if he is criminally responsible. It’s called a two-stage trial, and the same jury would sit for both. Or Eaton could waive his right to a jury trial and have a judge decide the second stage.

Assistant Attorney General Bud Ellis said Eaton’s pleas were expected. The court will schedule a status conference to discuss next steps in about 90 days.

Andrew Wright, Eaton’s court-appointed attorney, said his client was still “exploring” whether to pursue an insanity defense and might change course in the future.

“He’s having forensic evaluations,” Wright said. “Pending that, we’re not going to know how to move forward.”


Eaton told the Press Herald in June that he prides himself on taking responsibility for his actions but was considering an insanity plea because he said doing so would force the court to “figure out what’s wrong” with him and provide him with answers he said he’s long wanted.


Police arrested Eaton on the morning of April 18 after a spate of seemingly random shootings on the interstate turned into a manhunt coordinated by several state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies. Soon after, police announced that Eaton had confessed to the Yarmouth attacks and to killing his parents and two family friends. Police discovered the bodies of David, 66, and Cynthia Eaton, 62, and their friends and hosts Bob, 72, and Patti Eger, 62 earlier that day.

Peter G. DeRaps holds photos of David and Cynthia Eaton, left, and Bob and Patti Eger outside of West Bath District Court after the arraignment of Joseph Eaton on Friday. DeRaps is Patti Eger’s brother. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

About two dozen friends and family members of the victims attended Eaton’s arraignment Friday. While court officials struggled to set up a Zoom link for remote viewers, including Eaton’s brother John, those in the courtroom passed around tissue boxes and offered each other small hugs.

Eaton’s plea brought a gasp from several people. Some, including Patti Eger’s brother, Peter G. DeRaps, were visibly shaking with anger.

“These are four lives that he took. None of them deserved this. They loved him more than you can imagine, and this is what he gave them,” DeRaps said in a short, emotional speech outside the courthouse.


In a handwritten statement handed to a reporter, DeRaps wrote, “Joey Eaton is an evil, selfish, coward.”

“He could have taken the money, rental car and cellphone that his dad bought him, left the area and started a new life, but he had some kind of grudge and wanted revenge for something against his parents and Patti and Bob,” the statement reads. “They all loved him too much and never had a chance to protect themselves.”

“When he chose to take their lives, his soul went to hell, never to return.”

Loved ones of the victims hug outside West Bath District Courthouse after Joseph Eaton’s arraignment on Friday. Eaton, who has confessed to police and a reporter that he killed four people, including his parents, in Bowdoin and wounded three strangers on Interstate 295 in April, entered not guilty and not criminally responsible pleas. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

In an unusual series of interviews with the Press Herald from Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, Eaton again confessed and described his lengthy history of mental health issues, substance abuse and violence. He said his parents drove up from their home in Kansas to collect him from prison just days before the shootings, and he was staying with them at the Eger’s house on 1459 Augusta Road.

Just before Eaton said he shot his mother on the afternoon of April 17, he recorded a tearful video saying he was being denied a second chance. He told the Press Herald that the video was about his second ex-wife, whose father warned him to stay away after Eaton asked about reestablishing a relationship with his children.

Eaton said he loved his parents and was not angry with them, nor was he under the influence of hard drugs when he returned to the Eger’s home, pulled his mother’s Ruger LCR .38-caliber pistol out of her bag and began firing. He said he felt like he was watching from outside his body as he grabbed another gun belonging to Bob Eger and turned it against his father.


“There’s nothing I can do to help society understand something that can’t be understood,” he said. “Sometimes there are no answers.”


Eaton said he spent the night after the shootings doing drugs in a halfhearted and unsuccessful attempt to kill himself. In the morning he decided to drive south until he felt safe or police engaged him in a shootout. He said he was still feeling the effects of the drugs when he mistook civilian cars on I-295 for police cruisers and opened fire.

Angie Kensell, whose car prosecutors say was shot by Joseph Eaton on Interstate 295, outside of West Bath District Court after Eaton’s arraignment. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Outside the courtroom Friday, Angie Kensell said she had been driving to Portland to visit her mother, who had just suffered a stroke, when Eaton pulled up on her right side and began shooting. Kensell was unharmed, but she said police found 12 bullet holes in her car.

Kensell said it was difficult to hear Eaton say he wasn’t guilty and to see his bail in the highway shootings set only at $250,000. (Eaton will remain in jail without bail on the murder charges).

“My victim’s advocate told me that he’s going to plead not guilty,” she said. “But knowing it and hearing it is a totally different thing.”


Moments after Eaton allegedly fired at Kensell, his bullets struck Sean Halsey, 51, and his two adult children, Justin, 29, and Paige Halsey, 26. Justin and Paige Halsey’s wounds were significant and required surgery, but both are recovering more quickly than expected and have returned to work, Sean Halsey said Friday.

He called the arraignment a “good first step” and said he didn’t expect Eaton to succeed with an insanity defense. He said he and his family, who also attended Friday’s hearing, were willing to wait months to see justice done.

Sean Halsey speaks to the media outside of West Bath District Court Friday. Halsey and his two children, Paige and Justin, all were hit by bullets while driving down Interstate 295 in April. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“Whatever it takes,” he said. “If he wants to go to trial, we’ll be there to make sure he gets his proper sentence.”

Fourteen of the charges against Eaton carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

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