Jun. 3—A lawyer for a Limington man convicted of murdering his neighbor five years ago urged the state's highest court to overturn that verdict, arguing that police illegally searched his property and questioned him.
A state prosecutor defended the search, saying police were looking for the missing neighbor whose mangled body was later found hidden on the property.
Bruce Akers was arrested in connection with Douglas Flint's death in June 2016, and a York County jury found him guilty in January 2020. Now 62, he is serving 38 years in prison for the crime. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments remotely Thursday and streamed the audio on its website.
The appeal raised several legal issues, but the written brief and oral arguments Thursday focused on the disputed search.
After family members reported Flint missing in June 2016, police repeatedly entered Akers' property in hopes of talking to him about their investigation into his missing neighbor, at one point removing a cover from a camper window to look inside in the middle of the night, according to court documents. When officers did eventually speak with Akers, he told them Flint was no longer alive and made other statements that police used against him.
A judge decided before trial that the officers acted within the law and Akers' statements could be admitted as evidence.
Attorney Rory McNamara, who is representing Akers, said people generally have the right to withdraw into their homes and avoid contact with authorities. He argued the statements Akers made to police that night could not be considered voluntary because the officers had illegally come onto the property after midnight and looked into his camper to find him.
"This was a sustained, escalating series of forays into Bruce's constitutionally protected space," McNamara said. "The officers kept pushing the envelope until they obtained Bruce's consent. This is as serious a Fourth Amendment violation as this court will see."
Assistant Attorney General Don Macomber, who prosecuted Akers, said the officers acted appropriately because they were looking for Flint. When the officers heard a noise inside the camper on Akers' property, Macomber argued, they were justified in lifting the window covering because they could have reasonably believed Flint was the source. They found Akers instead and asked him to come outside to talk, and he did.
"The police conduct was wholly designed to try to find the missing person and not designed to search for incriminating evidence at the time," Macomber said.
Police ultimately got a search warrant for the property and found Flint's body under a pile of deer hides and debris. He was 55.
After the arrest, a judge found Akers incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to receive treatment at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta. The judge later found he had regained his competency, and while his state of mind was a central factor at the trial, it has not been raised in the appeal.
At the trial, the state accused Akers of killing Flint with a machete during a fight over allegations of stolen alcohol. The defense argued Akers was experiencing a major mental illness at the time. Akers did not testify at trial or make a statement at his sentencing hearing.
The court does not have a timetable to issue an opinion.