Friendship man enters no-contest plea in lobster boat arson

By Stephen Betts | Nov 29, 2018
Source: File photo

Friendship — A 43-year-old man is scheduled to be sentenced in January for destroying a lobster boat and boat shop in Waldoboro more than six years ago by setting them on fire.

James R. "Jamie" Simmons entered a no-contest plea to arson during a Tuesday, Nov. 27, hearing in Lincoln County Superior Court. A no-contest plea results in a conviction, but allows the defendant to contest the accusations in a civil case.

He was the last of three defendants to plead in the case.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Fernald said Simmons is expected to receive a four-year jail sentence with all but five months suspended. He will also be placed on probation for three years.

Fernald said the sentence agreement was reached because there were potential proof problems with the case. He said some of the prosecution witnesses have criminal records and their credibility would likely have been attacked. In addition, the state lost an appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court over the use of cellphone records of the defendants that showed them communicating and in the vicinity of the fire scene on the night it occurred.

A restitution hearing will also be held to determine how much money the defendants will have to repay.

Frederick A. Campbell, 34, of Friendship, entered his plea in July in Lincoln County Superior Court to one count of arson. Campbell was sentenced to five years in prison with all but nine months suspended, to be followed by four years of probation.

Jeffrey Luce, 40, of Whitefield, pleaded guilty in October 2015 to arson in the case.

The fire occurred on the night of June 21, 2012, at 3600 Friendship Road in Waldoboro. The fire destroyed a large Quonset hut boathouse owned by Donald Simmons, a lobster fisherman, who is not related to James Simmons.

Stored inside the boathouse was a 36-foot Wayne Beal fiberglass lobster boat owned by Danny Reed Jr. of Friendship. Reed is paraplegic and had planned to go tuna-fishing upon his release from a health care facility, according to court documents.

The fishing boat, valued at $150,000, had been paid off, but was not insured, according to police. The building was valued at about $50,000.

The affidavit filed in court at the time by Kenneth MacMaster of the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office states that James Simmons was an immediate suspect in the arson investigation because of an ongoing, escalating feud with Donald Simmons.

Hundreds of lobster traps belonging to both men had been cut. James Simmons was also convicted and sentenced in September 2012 to 364 days in jail with all but 45 days suspended for reduced charges of criminal threatening and reckless conduct for shooting a rifle in the direction of Donald Simmons at Wallace’s Lobster Wharf in Friendship Dec. 4, 2011.

The big break in the arson case occurred in May 2014 after Luce was arrested for stealing batteries. Luce had been a former sternman, along with Campbell, for James Simmons.

Investigators said in reports filed in court that Luce told them he was visiting with James Simmons on the evening of the fire, when the two went for a ride and stopped at Campbell’s residence. James Simmons and Campbell had been drinking heavily, according to police reports filed in court.

Luce said Campbell suggested they retaliate against Donald Simmons and all three agreed, according to the affidavit. Campbell got some kerosene and they drove to Donald Simmons’ place. Campbell was dropped off at the end of the driveway and Luce and James Simmons returned to James Simmons’ home.

The three men were indicted in September 2014. The appeal over the cellphone records contributed to the delay in the case being finalized.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Nov 29, 2018 14:52

Might as well let him serve the full time in jail and hope for the best. This justice system does not seem to work....lowered sentence time served and such...makes one wonder!

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