Death penalty sought for Maine prisoner

Escape-Artist Watch
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  April 10, 2013


FACING FEDERAL MURDER CHARGES Maine inmate Gary Watland, now held in solitary confinement in Colorado.

The state of Maine hasn't had capital punishment for 126 years, but Gary Watland, the self-described genius and convicted murderer who hatched a chilling Maine State Prison escape plan that almost worked, apparently has the distinction of being the first Maine prisoner to face the possibility of being executed in, at least, a long time.

"No one I spoke with is aware of any Maine people on death row in the US, who are facing capital trials, or who have been executed in recent times," said Scott Fish of the state Department of Corrections.

(Although they are not Maine prisoners, historian and attorney Paul Mills of Farmington was able to find two Mainers under death sentences: child-killers Malcolm Robbins, formerly of Rockland, on California's death row for 30 years, and Lyle May, formerly of Brunswick, on North Carolina's death row since 1999.)

In September, Watland will go in front of a jury in Denver on federal charges he killed a fellow inmate in 2008 at the United States penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, by stabbing him multiple times in the neck.

The DOC said he is "legally, technically a Maine prisoner." As a boy he spent four years in Aroostook Country, but spent most of his life in California. In 2004, after moving to Maine only a couple of months previously, he killed a drinking companion in Anson.

Although he said he shot his victim to defend his wife, he pleaded guilty against the advice of his attorneys, apparently in great remorse. He wept as he discussed what happened with a PortlandPress Herald reporter. It appears he had never before been in trouble with the law.

But since he entered the prison world, where he spent time in solitary confinement, he has gotten in a lot more trouble. His mother has told the Phoenix he has a history of mental illness.

Following his escape attempt in 2006, to which he also pleaded guilty, he was transferred to the federal system. He has already accumulated enough prison time to be served that, if not executed, he would spend the rest of his life locked up.

Watland, 50, is now being held in ADX, the federal solitary-confinement supermax, also in Florence — described by a former warden as "a cleaner version of Hell." Recently federal prosecutors accused him of threatening the lives of family members of inmates who are potential witnesses in his murder trial.

This isn't the first time that Watland has been accused of wanting to put other prisoners' family members in harm's way. His Maine escape attempt was thwarted when his wife was arrested while trying to smuggle a loaded handgun into the Maine prison's visitors room, where her husband allegedly planned to hold hostages and kill guards and prisoners' relatives until he was released.

His ingenious scheme failed because prison authorities had been tipped off to his plan by an inmate who feared a visitors-room bloodbath. (See "Stabbed in the Back" and "Gifted Felons," by Lance Tapley, September 14, 2007.) For her role, his wife was sentenced to three years in prison.

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  Topics: This Just In , Gary Watland, Maine State Prison, death penalty
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