January 22, 2022
BANGOR DAILY NEWS (BANGOR, MAINE

Choneska pleads guilty to attempted murder

BANGOR — Cote Choneska sat before a judge in Penobscot County Superior Court Tuesday as Deputy District Attorney Michael Roberts recounted the young man’s actions on the night of March 20, 1997, when Choneska fired six bullets into the 67-year-old owner of the Clifton Variety Store.

Moments before Roberts addressed the court, Choneska, 18, of Pleasant Point pleaded guilty to the attempted murder and robbery of James Hodgins, who survived the shooting, but is permanently disabled.

“My client called me several weeks ago and said he wanted to plea,” said Bangor attorney Marshall Cary. “He wants to get this behind him.”

Choneska, dressed in a dark green shirt, blue pants and new white sneakers, answered Justice Margaret Kravchuk’s questions, but said he had nothing to say about the incident.

Choneska’s sentencing is expected to occur within the next two weeks. Meanwhile, he remains incarcerated at Penobscot County Jail.

The state is recommending a concurrent sentence of 30 years in prison with all but 18 years suspended and six years probation. Cary has the option to argue for less and said after Tuesday’s hearing that he would seek to have all but 10 years of the sentence suspended.

Tuesday’s guilty pleas capped a pattern of destructive behavior that began when Choneska was nine years old. Before he was seven years old, Choneska had spent five years in a foster home because of his mother’s alcohol abuse. The ensuing years saw three placements, runaways from the Hinckley School, a brief stay at the Shaw House in Bangor and a reunion with his father in New Mexico that ended, due to the man’s abusive conduct toward his sons, according to court documents.

In 1994, during an 18-month incarceration at the Maine Youth Center in South Portland, Choneska told another juvenile that one of them should have restrained and raped a teacher who had disciplined them, according to testimony at a bind-over hearing last year.

One psychologist testified at an earlier hearing that chances were great that Choneska’s future conduct would be “vicious and assaultive.”

Cary has argued that a lengthy sentence at an adult prison would only serve to further harden Choneska.

On Tuesday, Roberts recalled how Choneska and his brother, Tolbert, entered the Route 9 convenience store at 9 p.m. one night and bought some candy.

A few moments later, Tolbert Choneska returned and bought some more candy, Roberts said. When Hodgins opened the cash register to make change, Cote Choneska entered through the door and began firing a handgun. Four bullets struck Hodgins and he fell to the floor behind the counter.

“The defendant then leaned over the counter and fired twice more,” Roberts told Justice Kravchuk.

With three bullet wounds in his chest, one in his chin, one in his abdomen and one in his hip, Hodgins crawled to the wall and managed to reach a light switch. He flicked the lights on and off until he attracted the attention of a passing motorist, who stopped to help.

Roberts said the Choneska brothers and their cousin, Travis Murphy, were on their way from Calais when one of the young men pulled out a gun that Murphy had in his glove compartment and began passing it around. The idea of possibly robbing a store was born during the trip.

Murphy and Tolbert Choneska have testified they had no idea that Cote Choneska was going to shoot anyone. Both Murphy and Tolbert Choneska have pleaded guilty to armed robbery charges and are serving five-year prison sentences.

But Cary will argue at the sentencing that his client was encouraged by his cousin and older brother to commit the robbery, and said Tolbert Choneska and Murphy were as culpable as his client.

“Considering his age and his role in this incident, 18 years to serve in prison is too long,” said Cary, outside the courtroom.

Choneska was 17 years old at the time of the shooting, but after a lengthy bind-over hearing, a judge determined that because of his criminal past and the seriousness of the crime, Choneska should be charged as an adult.


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