November 30, 2012

Jay mill kidnapper to serve 5 years

Francis Smith III, 51, of Norridgewock, took a hostage at Verso Paper mill in March

By Kaitlin Schroeder
Staff Writer

FARMINGTON -- A Norridgewock man pleaded guilty Friday to kidnapping and other charges for taking a hostage at a Jay paper mill in March.

The man, Francis Smith III, 51, was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but will serve five with the other years suspended. Upon his release, he will be required to serve six years' probation.

Smith held the mill manager hostage in his office for more than six hours on March 14 at Verso Paper's Androscoggin Mill in Jay.

District Attorney Andrew Robinson said the manager, Marc Connor, reported that there were three moments when he thought he was going to be killed.

Robinson said Smith held a handgun to Connor's head and forced him into a chair during the incident. After negotiating with police over the phone, Smith released Connor; then, nearly nine hours later, he left the office himself.

Smith's lawyer, Walter McKee, said Smith was severely depressed about losing his job at the mill after having worked there for almost 25 years. McKee said Smith intended to kill himself at the mill to show the manager the pain he felt.

"He was not going to the mill to kill anyone. He was going to be killed," McKee said.

McKee said when Smith arrived at the mill about 9 a.m. the day of the incident, the shotgun and handgun he brought were unloaded.

After loading the weapons, according to McKee, Smith asked Connor to kill him.

He plead guilty in Franklin County Superior Court to kidnapping, criminal threatening, terrorizing and assault.

Verso Paper attorney David Barry said at the hearing that Smith's crime inflicted "many levels of profound damage" that caused emotional distress to the employees and hurt the mill financially.

Before sentencing, Smith read from a statement that he was a different person at the time of the crime. He asked Justice Michaela Murphy to "remember the good Francis" who would not commit those crimes and said there was "absolutely no chance of there being repeat behavior."

Smith's father and younger brother also read prepared statements.

His brother, Allen Smith, became tearful when he read his statement.

"He's a really good person. He's got a really big heart," he said.

A group of 15 of Smith's friends and relatives also attended the hearing.

Murphy said it is rare for her to give probation to someone who committed serious crimes such as Smith's, but she felt there was evidence he was remorseful and would use probation to get any help he needed.

"I often do not offer probation when there has been serious conduct, but I'm confident he would take advantage of those opportunities in probation," she said.

While on probation, he was ordered to undergo counseling, which may result in mandatory use of medication; and have no contact with the crime victims or paper mill employees. He was also banned for life from owning firearms.

Kaitlin Schroeder -- 861-9252

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