July 19th, 2024

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

By The Associated Press on July 1, 2024.

WEST BATH, Maine (AP) – A man in Maine 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 his actions and police have not publicly announced any motive. Eaton withdrew an insanity defense late last year. He was subsequently charged with four counts of murder and three counts of aggravated attempted murder. He pleaded guilty to all of the charges on Monday.

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 gave emotional testimony before the judge sentenced Eaton, describing sleepless nights, nightmares and loss of innocence.

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 about the pain that he caused.

“I wake up every day regretting what I did,” he said after hearing the witnesses. He said he accepted his life sentence, adding, “I honestly think I deserve more. All I can say is, I’m sorry.”

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WEST BATH, Maine (AP) – A man who confessed to killing both his parents and two of their friends before shooting at motorists on a highway plans to enter pleas Monday that will resolve his criminal case, his lawyer said.

Joseph Eaton withdrew his insanity defense late last year and his defense attorney told The Associated Press that they anticipate “resolving” the indictments for four counts of murder and other charges during a change-of-plea hearing.

Prosecutors declined comment on any plea agreement ahead of the court hearing.

Law enforcement officials say Eaton, now 35, confessed to the killings on a property in rural Bowdoin, and to wounding three people while shooting at vehicles on Interstate 295 in Yarmouth, which brought traffic to a halt until police eventually captured him. The shootings came days after Eaton was released from a Maine prison for unrelated crimes. He has been in jail since his latest arrest.

Those killed were Eaton’s parents, Cynthia Eaton, 62, and David Eaton, 66; and longtime friends Robert Eger, 72, and Patti Eger, 62, the couple who owned the Bowdoin home where they all were staying. Also killed was the family dog, resulting in an animal cruelty charge.

Authorities say the slayings took place “on or about” April 17, 2023. Their bodies were found the following day, on the same Tuesday that three people were wounded when shots were fired 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.” But the heavy toll of the crime was surpassed months later when an Army reservist, who also lived in Bowdoin, killed 18 people at two locations in 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 also has a criminal history in Florida and Kansas. Cynthia Eaton had picked up Joseph Eaton from the Maine prison on April 14, when he was released after serving time for the crimes that were unrelated to the shootings.

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