Police & Fire

Easton man arrested, charged with murder in Bridgewater death

James Peaslee, 37, of Easton.
(Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office)

BRIDGEWATER, Maine — Maine State Police arrested an Easton man early Thursday morning in connection with the death of a 79-year-old man found dead in his Bridgewater home the night before.

Police charged James Peaslee, 37, with murder in the death of Paul Hilenski, according to Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland.

The Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call about 6 p.m. Wednesday from Hilenski’s Boundary Line Road home, McCausland said.

When Aroostook deputies and state police arrived at his home, they found Hilenski dead inside, according to McCausland. No information was provided concerning the cause of death.

The home of Paul Hilenski is shown here during an investigation conducted by Aroostook and Maine State Police officials on the morning of Thursday, Jan. 18. Many of Hilenski’s neighbors and fellow Bridgewater residents recalled their shock after hearing about Hilenski’s murder, which took place the night before when he was fatally shot by Easton resident James Peaslee. (Melissa Lizotte | Star-Herald)

The Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office posted an advisory on its Facebook page at 6:21 p.m. Wednesday warning residents who live in the Boundary Line Road area to stay indoors and lock their doors, and asking others to avoid that area while police investigated “an active incident.”

McCausland reported Thursday morning that Peaslee was arrested about 1 a.m. Thursday as he was driving on the West Ridge Road in Easton.

Peaslee was taken to the Aroostook County Jail in Houlton and his vehicle was secured at the state police barracks in Houlton.

McCausland said investigators will conduct a search at Hilenski’s and Peaslee’s residences Thursday.

He said the state medical examiner’s office in Augusta would perform an autopsy.

Peaslee has a lengthy criminal record in Maine dating back to an assault in 1998 for which he was convicted and sentenced to serve his first 5 days in jail, according to the state’s Bureau of Identification. Since then over the last two decades, he has served several months in jail for a variety of offenses.

While specifics about the incidents are not included in the 35-page criminal record provided by the bureau, it shows that Peaslee has been convicted of multiple crimes in the last two decades, including criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, assault, terrorizing, unlawful trafficking in scheduled drugs, refusing to submit to arrest, violating bail conditions, and violating conditions of probation.

The home of homicide victim Paul Hilenski was being investigated by local and state police on Thursday, Jan. 18, the day after Hilenski had been fatally shot by Easton resident James Peaslee, 37. Police had discouraged anyone from getting too close to the home during their investigation, which took place during much of the morning and early afternoon on Thursday. (Melissa Lizotte | Star-Herald)

Most of the crimes appear to have occured in Aroostook County as the violations were handled in district and superior courts out of Houlton, Caribou and Presque Isle.

The documents indicate that he last was incarcerated at the Maine State Prison in Warren in July 2014, but it is unclear when he was released.

According to the documents, the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office last charged Peaslee with assault for an incident on Oct. 27, 2017. No further information is provided about that case.

As news of the killing spread throughout the day on Thursday, some residents of this tiny community of about 600 people said they were shocked by the death of their neighbor.

“Paul was my friend for 15 years ever since my wife and I moved here from Rhode Island,” said Christian Rotter, who lives just down the road from the victim’s home on Boundary Line Road.

“I was sad when I found out. This never should’ve happened,” he said as he stood by the side of the road near the victim’s home after walking up as close as police would allow.

Rotter said that Hilenski was Peaslee’s stepfather. He said Hilenski had married Peaslee’s mother, Janet, who died in a car accident in 2015.

Jim and Diana Gehring, who live about a mile away on on the Boundary Line Road, said they did not know Hilenski personally, but were familiar with Peaslee’s troubled past. Still they said they were shocked by what happened Wednesday night.

“We were home last night and we saw the ambulance go by and at first didn’t think too much of it.  Then we saw the state police and sheriff’s cars go by.  An hour and a half later we heard that they were looking for the guy who did it pretty intensely,” Jim Gehring said at their home Thursday morning.  “It’s a shame that something like this had to happen. Bridgewater is normally a quiet little town.”

At Foster’s On the Run gas station and convenience store on U.S. Route 1 about 4 miles north of Boundary Line Road, Roland Richardson of Bridgewater also expressed surprise.

“My son is the manager of the store here and he’s the one who called me. Everyone was on alert after the news went on Facebook,” Richardson said.  “I think all of us were shocked that something like this would happen in our town.”

The Bridgewater homicide brings to four the number police have responded to so far in 2018, compared to one in January last year and two in January 2016, according to McCausland. Cases so far this month include a murder-suicide in Temple and a homicide each in Bangor and Portland.

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