Kierstead sentenced to 45 years for killing friend

By Juliette Laaka | Feb 25, 2014
Andrew J. Kierstead during his trial in November. He was sentenced Feb. 25 to 45 years in prison for the 2012 shooting death of Richard Mills.

Rockland — The 41-year-old Tenants Harbor man convicted of killing his friend more than a year ago for a dispute concerning a drug debt will spend 45 years in prison.

Andrew J. Kierstead was sentenced Feb. 25 by Justice Jeffery Hjelm in Knox County Superior Court for the shooting death of 48-year-old Richard Mills of Cushing. The two men were friends who hunted and fished together, and Kierstead helped Mills build his home.

Hjelm said Kierstead acted in cold blood when he shot Mills outside the victim's home in September 2012, while Mills was looking at the engine of Kierstead's truck, attempting to diagnose a noise problem, according to information revealed during the November trial.

Kierstead addressed the court and apologized to Mills' family, saying he is unable to provide an answer for why he killed Mills.

"Richard and I were good friends, and like you, I miss him," he said.

He said he is a different person today, with clarity, and hopes to assist others with addiction problems.

According to interviews with police, Kierstead said he went to Mills' home to buy drugs. When Mills refused to sell him more pills because of an outstanding debt, Kierstead shot him five times and then attempted suicide by overdosing on methadone and Vicodin.

In a recorded interview with police, Kierstead said he did not plan to kill Mills, that he just wanted to "spook him." Later in the interview, when asked if he intended to kill Mills at the time he grabbed the gun from the cab of his truck, there is a long pause before Kierstead answered with a single yes.

Defense attorney Steve Peterson said in November, he and his client do not dispute a lot of facts of the case, but claim Kierstead was not of sound conscious state when he shot Mills. He said his client, well before the shooting, had been drinking heavily, attempting to self-medicate. Peterson said his client was unable to form intent to kill Mills because he was not in a rational state of mind, due to effects of opiate withdrawal and alcohol consumption.

Hjelm said Feb. 25 quantifying aggravating and mitigating factors of a murder, as well taking into account the searing and profound suffering the family experiences is impossible to translate to a number. He added Kierstead is a good candidate for rehabilitation.

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said the state was seeking a 45- to 50-year sentence, taking into account the lack of empathy Kierstead demonstrated, and the conscious suffering Mills endured after he was shot.

Peterson requested the sentence be the mandatory minimum the state allows, which is 25 years. Peterson argued the case is similar to another drug-related murder in Lincoln County where the defendant was given the lesser basic sentence. Peterson said Kierstead was remorseful for shooting Mills, especially in his clear state of mind, free of the opiate addiction.

Mills' two sisters, his step-father and niece spoke of the man they knew. All recounted how generous Mills was, giving his time to anybody in need, regardless of his relationship with them. Each Christmas he would donate to Toys for Tots, commenting to family and friends how children should never have a Christmas without toys. His older sister said Mills' generosity not only made him smile, but lit up his entire face, knowing he was helping to make the holiday special for a child.

The family also spoke of how proud he was of his daughter, and how he will never experience the joy of being a grandfather.

Mills' step-father said Mills was a son any parents would be proud of. He said Kierstead's family will be able to visit him in prison, but the Mills family will only see Richard through photographs.

Mills' family said his portrayal as a drug dealer is only founded by the words of Kierstead, and that there is no physical evidence to support his claims.

Kierstead can appeal the sentence, but it was unclear if he would pursue the option.

Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at jlaaka@coureirublicationsllc.com.

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Juliette Laaka
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Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.

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