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Defense cites mental illnesses in seeking reduced sentence for murder defendant

By Stephen Betts | Jul 24, 2020
Photo by: Stephen Betts Sarah Richards with her attorney Jeremy Pratt during a 2019 court hearing.

Rockland — The attorney for a South Thomaston woman who admitted to murdering 83-year-old Helen Carver last year in her Owls Head home is asking a judge to limit his client's prison term to 30 years, citing her extensive mental illness history fueled by drugs and domestic abuse.

Defense attorney Jeremy Pratt of Camden filed his sentencing recommendation Friday, July 24, in the case of 38-year-old Sarah Richards.

The Maine Attorney General's Office asked for a 50-year prison term.

Richards will be sentenced July 29 in Knox County Superior Court. The minimum sentence for murder in Maine is 25 years with a maximum of life behind bars.

In his sentencing memorandum, the defense attorney lists the physical and sexual abuse she endured at the hands of various people.

The memorandum also lists illnesses including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia for more than 20 years.

Richards dropped out of high school, but since being jailed following her arrest in February 2019 for murder, she earned her high school diploma and started taking her first college course — creative writing — which was cut short because of the concerns of COVID-19 spread.

"Sarah knows she may be incarcerated for the rest of her life, but she is not willing to give up on her life. She has a dream of continuing college and earning multiple degrees," Pratt stated in his recommendation to the court.

"She would like to become a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, she would like to earn a pastoral license to be a minister and her ultimate dream is earning a Ph.D in psychology."

The defense attorney cited her mental health, her physical health (cirrhosis of the liver), her acceptance of responsibility and prospects for rehabilitation in asking for the 30-year sentence. He noted that recidivism rates for people older than 40 is significantly less than younger offenders.

Richards pleaded guilty April 23 in the Knox County courtroom to murder and theft for the Feb. 21, 2019, death of Carver.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Ellis Jr. stated in the sentencing memo, filed a few days earlier, there were many aggravating factors in the murder including that the victim was an 83-year-old who was physically handicapped and that the crime occurred in the victim's home.

The prosecutor said the crime was torturous, extremely cruel and showed extreme savagery.

Helen Carver's son, Robert Carver Jr., submitted a letter about the impact on him and the family.

"As he (Robert Carver Jr.) appropriately points out, Helen was denied, in a vicious and senseless fashion, the opportunity to have her life end naturally," the prosecutor told the court in the sentencing memo.

Richards admitted to police she struck Helen Carver in the head with a snow shovel, claiming she did it in self-defense because the Owls Head woman tried to attack her.

Blood was found on the snow shovel and a flashlight. The Maine Medical Examiner determined Carver died of blunt force trauma to her head and upper body as well as strangulation. The autopsy found broken bones in her neck and several broken vertebrae both on the upper and lower back.

In two earlier interviews with state police detectives, Richards initially said she went into the house and when she left, Carver was fine. In a second interview, she claimed Carver was already dead but she tried to perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation on the woman before leaving and not notifying anyone about the death. The third interview is when Richards claimed self-defense.

Carver had limited mobility, having a walker on the first floor of her home and one on the second floor.

The Knox County Sheriff's Office was investigating Richards for stealing a debit card belonging to Carver and spending more than $1,000 from the woman's bank account. Richards was shoveling snow for Carver. The Sheriff's Office scheduled an interview with Richards Feb. 22 about the theft.

Carver's son said he spoke to his mother on the day of the murder and she said Richards was shoveling snow at that time, saying the woman took her debit card.

Richards was arrested Feb. 22 and indicted March 5, 2019, by a Knox County grand jury for murder and theft. She has been held since then at the Knox County Jail.

The state is also asking for Richards to pay $5,497 in restitution to pay for Carver's funeral expenses as well as the cost incurred for having the house cleaned after the murder, the state said it may also seek reimbursement for the more than $1,000 that Richards spent from Carver's stolen debit card.

The prosecutor said the only mitigating factor in the case was that the woman pleaded guilty to the crime.

The prosecutor pointed out Richards' lengthy criminal record that includes a 2004 assault.

She was convicted of stealing more than 100 lobster crates from Fox Island Lobster in Cushing in 2013 where she worked.

She also had theft convictions in 2004, 2007 and 2012. Richards also has an endangering the welfare of a child and disorderly conduct convictions in 2012 while living in New Jersey.

She received a nine-month jail term in 2016 for unlawful trafficking in drugs. In June 2017, she was sentenced to 30 days in jail for violating the probation she was on for the prior drug conviction.

Carver and her husband moved to Owls Head in 1977 to a home that was in her husband's family for three generations. They operated Carver's Market in Thomaston —which was at the intersection of Main and Beechwood streets — from 1977 to 1989. She was born in Rockland.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Ronald Dyer | Jul 26, 2020 09:53

"She would like to become a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, she would like to earn a pastoral license to be a minister and her ultimate dream is earning a Ph.D in psychology."

Fifty years behind bars for her crime would give her ample time to accomplish this and would also ensure justice for Helen Carver's family.


Posted by: johanna stadler | Jul 25, 2020 22:35

might feel sorry for her if she had sought out help before killing someone.  Glad to see she has taken responsibility for her crime.  Maybe she can redeem herself in jail, but she has no right to expect mercy.

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Jul 25, 2020 10:18

An 83 year old mother died and we are supposed to marvel at the accomplishments of the murderer. Typical case of wanting to change behavior after being caught. That's not justice for the Carvers.

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