Maine supreme court hears sentencing appeal of mother in baby manslaughter case

3 weeks ago

Six Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justices heard oral arguments on Thursday in the sentencing appeal of a woman convicted in the 1985 death of her newborn infant. 

In her appeal, Lee Ann Daigle, 60, argued that her sentence was illegal because the court used current sentencing guidelines in its analysis, instead of adhering to the 1985 guidelines.

The State refuted Daigle’s claim, saying the sentencing court correctly considered and applied the laws in effect at the time of the crime when sentencing Daigle, according to the state’s brief.

Daigle also argued that the court deprived her of her due process during sentencing.

Last summer, Justice Stephen Nelson sentenced Caribou native Daigle to 16 years, all but six suspended, with three years probation after she pleaded guilty to criminal negligence manslaughter in April 2023.

During Thursday’s hearing in Portland, Assistant Attorney General Lara Nomani said there is plenty of evidence that Daigle was sentenced appropriately. The sentencing judge referenced repeatedly that the court must apply the laws in effect at the time the crime was committed, she said. 

Daigle’s attorney,.Neil Prendergast, disputed that claim, saying that because the court focused on Baby Jane Doe’s young age the court was partially applying more modern guidelines. 

Several justices questioned Prendergast’s argument, saying the 1985 and present statutes are basically the same.  

Regarding Daigle’s claim that the court violated her due process rights, Prendergast said the sentencing judge was conducting what was close to a cross examination of Daigle during sentencing. 

“He basically said, ‘look I looked at the transcripts and what you said doesn’t work. Do you want to address that? Do you want to talk to your lawyer?,’” Prendergast said. 

Associate Justice Wayne Douglas responded.

“He gave her a chance to talk to her attorney, he offered her an opportunity to consult with counsel,” he said.

Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill added that the judge could have just pronounced the sentence without giving Daigle an opportunity to consult with counsel and respond. 

The court could have said it was moving directly to sentencing because it could not reconcile Daigle’s testimony and believed she was not honest with the court, Stanfill said, asking Prendergast what the court should have done. 

Other justices also discussed how a due process violation would be just the opposite of the sentencing court’s actions.  

Prendergast disagreed, pointing to the manner in which Nelson said he could not reconcile her testimony in a cross examination of sorts and she may have felt pressured or coerced. 

Nomani disagreed. 

“The court was very protective of her due process rights and did not put her in a position where she was directed to make any kind of comment that could be viewed as potentially self incriminating,” she said.  

The justices pointed out that during sentencing, Nelson left the bench to give Daigle an opportunity to talk to her lawyer.

In 1985, the bloody, naked body of a baby girl was discovered in a Frenchville gravel pit by Armand and Lorraine Pelletier’s dog who carried the baby to their lawn.

The case went unsolved until DNA linked the baby to Daigle in 2022. 

That same year, Maine State Police arrested Daigle, who was living in Massachusetts at the time, after a grand jury indicted her on one count of intentional, knowing or depraved murder.

During sentencing, Nelson said that for 37 years Daigle did not step forward or take responsibility even when it was clear that she was the target of the investigation.

“She essentially discarded and dumped the baby in the snowbank. It was below freezing, and there can be no real claim there was not certainty that such action would in fact result in the death of that baby,” said Nelson in Houlton Superior Court.

Chief Justice Stanfill said that the court will take the matter under advisement and will issue a written decision.

Daigle is currently housed in the Maine Correctional Center in Windham.