July 14th, 2024

Man who confessed to killing 4 people in Maine, including his parents, sentenced to life in prison

By David Sharp, The Associated Press on July 1, 2024.

FILE - Joseph Eaton walks into a courtroom at West Bath District Court for his arraignment, July 28, 2023, in West Bath, Maine. Eaton, who confessed to killing his parents and their friends and firing at motorists on a busy highway after being released from prison, plans to enter pleas that will bring the criminal case to a conclusion, his lawyer said. (Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via AP, Pool, File)

WEST BATH, Maine (AP) – A man who confessed to killing his parents and two of their friends and wounding three people in a highway shooting pleaded guilty to murder and other charges on Monday, and a judge sentenced him to the maximum term of life in prison.

Joseph Eaton has never provided an explanation for the crimes he admitted to committing in Maine last year, and police have not publicly announced any motive. Eaton withdrew an insanity defense late last year.

Defense lawyer Andrew Wright said Eaton chose to plead guilty to take responsibility, believing it was the “reasonable and moral” thing to do.

Anguished family members described sleepless nights, nightmares and loss of innocence during emotional testimony given before Eaton’s sentencing.

One of them called Eaton “a selfish little boy” who took the lives of the very people who cared most for him.

Eaton looked down at the defense table during much of the testimony, and apologized afterward. “I wake up every day regretting what I did,” he said. Of his life sentence, he added, “I honestly think I deserve more. All I can say is, I’m sorry.”

Law enforcement officials say Eaton, now 35, confessed to fatally shooting his parents and two of their friends at the friends’ property in the rural town of Bowdoin. He also confessed to shooting at vehicles on Interstate 295 in Yarmouth, which left three people wounded. The crimes took place days after Eaton was released from a Maine prison for unrelated crimes. He has been in jail since his latest arrest.

Killed were David Eaton, 66, and Cynthia Eaton, 62, who had picked her son up from prison on April 14; and longtime friends Robert Eger, 72, and Patti Eger, 62. Also killed was the Egers’ dog, which led authorities to add animal cruelty to the list of charges against Joseph Eaton.

Superior Court Justice Daniel Billings noted that Eaton killed the very family and friends who were waiting to welcome him back into society after he was released from prison. “It leaves me without words,” he said.

Authorities say Eaton killed his parents and their friends “on or about” April 17, 2023. The victims’ bodies were found the following morning, on the same day authorities say he fired shots at cars on I-295 in Yarmouth, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) outside of Portland, Maine’s biggest city. Eaton faced separate indictments because the attacks at the Bowdoin home and on the highway happened in different counties.

Maine Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck called the shootings “an attack on the soul of our state.” Months later, an Army reservist who lived in Bowdoin killed 18 people at two locations in the city of Lewiston, in what would become the state’s deadliest mass shooting.

Police still haven’t announced any motive for Eaton’s crimes.

An unsigned note found at the scene of the killings mentioned “someone being freed of pain and that the writer of the note wanted a new life,” according to a criminal affidavit. Eaton told the Portland Press Herald newspaper in jailhouse interviews that he was not in control of his actions at the time of the shootings and didn’t understand why he did it.

Eaton pleaded guilty on Monday to more than a dozen charges, including four counts of murder and three counts of aggravated attempted murder. He received the maximum penalty for each of them.

Authorities say Eaton also has a criminal history in Florida and Kansas.

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