Friends remember a loving mother whose life was cut short

Belfast shooter given 50 years for death of woman

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 7:45pm

    BELFAST —  Justice Robert Murray handed down a 50-year prison sentence to former Belfast resident Todd Gilday today, Aug. 20, in Waldo County Superior Court.

    The sentence, which was recommended by Assistant District Attorney Leane Zainea as part of a plea agreement, closed a case that began Aug. 28, 2013, when Gilday, now 44, shot Mathew Day and his mother Lynn Arsenault at a home on Waldo Ave. Arsenault died from her wounds.

    Escorted in by law enforcement, GIlday entered an empty courtroom dressed in an orange jumpsuit and chains Wednesday morning well before any of the victim's family arrived.

    Gilday stood accused of shooting Mathew Day and his mother Lynn (Day) Arsenault after becoming upset at the perceived relationship between Day and his former girlfriend's mother.

    Flanked on either side by his attorneys, Gilday smiled as he talked quietly with the men charged with defending him before friends and family of Arsenault entered. 

    Court officials opened the courtroom just before the scheduled 8:30 a.m. starting time, though the room was largely empty. The roughly half-dozen people appearing on behalf of the deceased all sat together on the prosecution side of the room. For his part, Gilday had three supporters at the sentencing, including his mother.

    Assistant attorney general Zainea addressed the court first, giving Murray the agreed upon recommendation according to the terms of a plea agreement.

    "The State and the defendant jointly agree for the murder of Lynn [Day] Arsenault, the State recommends 50 years [in prison]," said Zainea.

    Zainea told the court that the recommendation was arrived upon after considering two aspects: "The first [step] was establishing a basic sentence [without regard to mitigating or aggravating circumstance]," which in the case of intentional murder is a life sentence.

    Zainea said the state then examined the circumstances, including Gilday's trip to the gravel pit to practice shooting the day of the murder, his familiarity with firearms and ammunition and multiple people who talked about his anger toward Mathew Day the day of the shooting.

    Zainea said that alone, the listed factors were enough to warrant a life sentence, but there were additional aggravating factors, including the use of a firearm and the fact that Arsenault, who was murdered in a home she owned, was innocent.

    "[Arsenault] had only come [to the residence] to go to court with [Mathew Day],” Zainea said. “She resided in Garland."  

    Gilday's drug use, which Zainea said included cocaine, bath salts and Ritalin, was another factor considered.

    After review of the aggravating factors concluded, Zainea moved on to the task at hand.

    "So, what do we do with Todd GIlday?" she asked the court. "We look at [both] aggravating and mitigating factors."

    The fact that Gilday pleaded guilty to his crimes, sparing Mathew Day and Jonathan Riley from being forced to relive "their experience publicly about what they saw and heard the night of [Lynn Arsenault's] murder," she said.

    Riley, who was at the home the night of the shootings, escaped injury by hiding behind a sofa until Gilday fled.

    Zainea also pointed to Gilday's lack of prior criminal offenses and history of mostly stable jobs as factors the state considered before determining a recommendation.

    Zainea told Justice Murray, "It is [the state's] belief that 50 years [for Arsenault's murder] is appropriate.”

    The state also recommended sentences of 15 years in prison to be served concurrently for each of the charges of aggravated attempted murder and aggravated assault.

    Gilday must also pay $3,063 to the Day family for expenses incurred as a result of Gilday's crimes.

    After Zainea finished speaking to the court, two former friends of Arsenault's rose to share victim impact statements with Gilday and the court.

    Sheila Johnson told the room she was close to Lynn, who she said had "a radiant smile that could light up a room."

    Johnson's voice was steady as she told the room that [Lynn] was compassionate, caring and extremely hard working."

    She recounted the way the two had "optimistically planned for [the] future."

    Sheila Johnson's husband was next to speak on the impact Todd Gilday's crimes have had, and continue to have on those who knew and loved her.

    "My message," he said, "is just why?"

    Johnson told the court he had been texting with Arsenault the night she was murdered, and was shocked to discover her violent end the next morning. 

    "Why would you murder someone you didn't know," he asked Gilday. "Your careless, reckless, stupid act stole her from our lives. I know my question of why will never be answered, but [Arsenault's] memory will never be forgotten. You'll have a long time to think about what you've done.”

    When Justice Murray spoke, he told Gilday that his intention of killing multiple people the night of the shooting was something the court would also consider.

    After agreeing to the state's sentencing recommendation, Justice Murray told Gilday, "Your conduct [that night] remains utterly senseless."

    Gilday declined the opportunity to speak. 

    After Murray vacated the courtroom, court officers asked lingering Arsenault supporters to clear out so the courtroom could be secured. As reporters and others in attendance descended the courthouse stairs, a woman sitting on the plaintiff's side of the courtroom stopped mid-stair to address reporters and others standing nearby.

    "My son was sick, he was seeing a psychiatrist. He got hooked on drugs down [in Belfast/Waldo County]."

    A court officer attempted to stop the discourse, telling the woman, "this is not the time or place [for her comments]," but she dismissed his objections.

    "I don't care, he's my son and I have to defend him. You all built a bogus case around him and I hope you all rot in hell. There, put that in the paper," she said before exiting the courthouse.

    Leane Zainea spoke with reporters after the sentencing, saying, "the sentence recommended [of 50 years] was one we always believed was appropriate."

    Zainea said the family was supportive of the sentence, and were comforted some that [the sentence] would take him into his elder years.

    Asked by a reporter whether the family felt victorious, Zainea said, "anytime justice is achieved and people are held accountable for their murders..."

    Zainea alluded to being satisfied with the outcome, but said, "I don't know that I'd call it a victory [since Arsenault is still gone]."

    One of Gilday's attorneys, Philip Cohen, also spoke to reporters. He said he believed Gilday "understood that no matter what he said, it wouldn't have helped the victim's family. We talked about [him] writing [the victim's family] a letter, which he may do in the future."

    The Johnsons, who stopped to speak with reporters, said it was important "Lynn [be] remembered as she was, not as a statistic. She was a wonderful person."

    When asked why he spoke directly to Gilday in his victim impact statement, Greg Johnson said that even though Gilday showed no remorse [the day of sentencing], hopefully someday what was said will sink in.

    "I wish she could come back," said Sheila Johnson, quietly. “[the sentence] is the best resolution, but not..."



    Erica Thoms can be reached at