Man who confessed to killing 4 people in Maine, including his parents, sentenced to life in prison

West Bath, Maine (AP) — A man who confessed to killing his parents and two of their friends and wounding three people in a highway shooting pleaded guilty to murder and other charges on Monday, and a judge sentenced him to the maximum term of life in prison.

Joseph Eaton never provided a reason to law enforcement officials for the violent crimes he admitted committing in Maine last year, and he had no explanation for the victims’ families and friends who spoke in court.

Through written testimony read aloud, a woman described the horrific scene of blood and broken glass that confronted her in April 2023 when she found the crime scene where Eaton confessed to the fatal shootings. In a similar written statement, the father of one of three people wounded by bullets that Eaton fired on a highway spoke of his terror that day that his daughter would bleed out in his arms. She ultimately survived. A shooting survivor spoke of discovering 13 bullet holes in her car. Others said they experienced sleepless nights and nightmares as a result of Eaton’s actions.

“He killed the only four people in this world who actually loved and cared for him,” said a distraught Kristina DeRaps, who is married to a nephew of one of the victims, Patti Eger. DeRaps called Eaton “a selfish little boy.”

Eaton looked down at the defense table during much of the testimony. When he spoke, he said he was still in disbelief over his actions. “I wake up every day regretting what I did,” he said. Of his life sentence, he added, “I honestly think I deserve worse. All I can say is, I’m sorry.”

Law enforcement officials say Eaton, now 35, confessed to fatally shooting his parents, Eger and Eger’s husband at the Egers’ home in the rural town of Bowdoin. He also confessed to shooting at vehicles on Interstate 295 in Yarmouth. The crimes took place days after Eaton was released from a Maine prison for unrelated crimes. He has been in jail since his latest arrest.

Killed were David Eaton, 66; Eger and Cynthia Eaton, both 62; and Robert Eger, 72. Cynthia Eaton had picked her son up on April 14, when he was released from prison. Also killed was the Egers’ dog, which led authorities to add animal cruelty to the list of charges against Joseph Eaton.

Investigators are seen on April 18, 2023, at the scene where Eaton killed four people in Bowdoin, Maine. - Robert F. Bukaty/AP/File
Investigators are seen on April 18, 2023, at the scene where Eaton killed four people in Bowdoin, Maine. - Robert F. Bukaty/AP/File

Authorities believe Eaton delivered the fatal shots on April 17, 2023. The victims’ bodies were found the following morning, on the same day authorities say he fired at cars on I-295 in Yarmouth, about 12 miles outside of Portland, Maine’s biggest city. Eaton faced separate indictments because the attacks at the Bowdoin home and on the highway happened in different counties.

At the time, Maine Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck called the shootings “an attack on the soul of our state.” Months later, an Army reservist who lived in Bowdoin killed 18 people at two locations in the city of Lewiston, in what would become the state’s deadliest mass shooting.

An unsigned note found at the scene of the killings mentioned “someone being freed of pain and that the writer of the note wanted a new life,” according to a criminal affidavit. Eaton told the Portland Press Herald newspaper in jailhouse interviews that he was not in control of his actions at the time of the shootings and didn’t understand why he did it.

All told, Eaton pleaded guilty on Monday to more than a dozen charges, including four counts of murder and aggravated attempted murder. He received the maximum penalty for each of them.

Defense lawyer Andrew Wright said Eaton chose to plead guilty to take responsibility for his actions, believing it was the “reasonable and moral” thing to do to bring the case to a conclusion.

Outside the courthouse, Wright said he struggles to make sense of Eaton, who despite committing such violent crimes also struck him during their one-on-one interactions as “a kind and compassionate and emotional and empathetic” man.

“It’s a senseless act, that makes no sense to anyone involved,” he said. “It’s a tragedy.”

Authorities say Eaton also has a criminal history in Florida and Kansas.

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