Killer in Taped Shootings Sentenced to Life In Prison
MACHIAS, Maine (AP) _ A 46-year-old man convicted of murdering his neighbors while their video camera recorded the shootings was sentenced Monday to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Before he was sentenced, Richard B. Uffelman, who had engaged in a Hatfield-McCoy-type feud with his neighbors, reiterated his claim that he was defending his home from attack when he killed Michael and Florence Phillips on Aug. 29, 1989, in Machiasport.
″It was all in a father’s defense of his family,″ Uffelman told Justice Robert Browne in Washington County Superior Court. ″I was set up to be murdered in a bizarre video game.″
Browne rejected Uffelman’s claims. He sentenced Uffelman to life in prison for Mrs. Phillips’ slaying and gave him a concurrent 50-year sentence for her husband’s killing. Uffelman’s attorney said it is likely he will appeal. The slayings were recorded by a video camera the Phillipses had set up in their kitchen to record alleged acts of harassment by Uffelman in a feud between the neighbors.
Testimony during Uffelman’s trial in October revealed that he had wired his home with elaborate security systems and stockpiled an arsenal of 38 firearms. Uffelman had testified that his two sons participated in the shootings. The boys, now 12 and 14, were removed from their parents’ custody after the killings and now live in a foster home.
″We don’t need a videotape to be legitimately horrified,″ assistant attorney general Jeffrey Hjelm said during the sentencing hearing. ″His conduct that afternoon was completely unjustified.″
Hjelm said Uffelman acted like an assassin in gunning down the couple, and had involved his sons in the crime.
″The net of violence was cast far and wide and included Michael and Florence Phillips and Uffelman’s own family as well,″ he said.
Uffelman’s attorney, Kevin Wall of Camden, N.J., urged the judge to take into account his client’s mental condition when sentencing him.
″I suggest that this was an ongoing mental problem that culminated at this time,″ Wall said. ″He went over the edge. He continues to hold fast to the belief he was defending himself and his family.″
Uffelman spoke for about 45 minutes in his own behalf, describing the reasons for his actions.
″We were a family living in extreme fear,″ he told the judge. ″I did not want to shoot these people. We’ve lost everything.″
Uffelman said that on the day of the killing he thought the Phillipses had fired at him. ″I even thought I saw smoke. That’s the only thing that would make me shoot out of the living room window.″
Browne, however, followed the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation. ″This tragedy should never have happened. Whatever the provocation was, it did not justify your response,″ he told Uffelman.
A Superior Court jury found Uffelman guilty and criminally responsible in mid-October for shooting the Phillipses. After convicting Uffelman, the jury in Aroostook County, where the trial was moved because of publicity about the case, rejected his secondary defense of insanity.
Wall has said the case may be the first in which the victims unknowingly videotaped their own deaths.
The videotape played during the trial showed the Phillipses leaving their house for a walk on the evening the crime was committed.
Following a nearly silent, 10-minute period, 20 to 25 shots rang out, blanketing the front of Uffelman’s large, stately house with smoke. After a few minutes, Uffelman, carrying a rifle, was seen leaving the house and heading toward the road.
Three more shots were heard before Uffelman returned to the house with the rifle. A few minutes later, Uffelman and his two sons, who were 10 and 12 at the time, walked from the house toward the road, also carrying rifles. One more shot was heard, and Uffelman and his sons returned to the house.
The tape then shows the arrival of several state and county police officers.
Wall said after the sentencing it was likely Uffelman would appeal his convictions to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
″He’s a mentally ill man,″ Wall said, ″and he will go to his grave believing that he is not a murderer.″