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Family of Camden woman killed by boater says plea deal offers no justice

By Stephen Betts | Jul 30, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts Jonathan Roberts, left, and his attorney, Walter McKee, listen as Justice Daniel Billings accepts the plea agreement.

Wiscasset — A Massachusetts man charged in connection with the death of a Camden woman last summer will be fined $400 if he meets conditions of an agreement approved Monday, July 29, at the Lincoln County courthouse.

The plea agreement was sharply criticized by the victim's family.

A manslaughter charge and an operating at an imprudent speed charge against Jonathan D. Roberts, 44, of Waban, Mass., were dismissed as part of a deferred disposition reached between the defense and the District Attorney's Office.

He pleaded guilty Monday to reckless operation of a watercraft.

If Roberts refrains from criminal conduct and completes 100 hours of community service during the next year, that charge will also be dismissed and he will be fined $400 for the civil offense of operating a boat at a greater than headway speed within a water safety zone.

Roberts was indicted in January for manslaughter, reckless operation of a watercraft and operating a watercraft at an imprudent speed for the Aug. 2, 2018, incident on Damariscotta Lake in Jefferson, which claimed the life of Kristen McKellar.

McKellar, 32, was struck while swimming close to shore with a friend at dusk.

Roberts pleaded not guilty and has been free on $1,500 cash bail.

McKellar's father, mother and sister spoke at the hearing on the impact of the young woman's death.

Alison McKellar, the victim's sister, said the family had some relief when Roberts was indicted earlier this year. But, she said, with the change in leadership in the District Attorney's Office, the case was being treated differently.

"This is the legal equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders," Alison McKellar said. "This felt like the 'Twilight Zone'."

She also called the agreement a "joke," which would send a message to boaters that they could kill someone and not get more than community service. She said her sister regularly had given 100 hours a month to her community.

Her father, Hugh McKellar, said this was the first time he had seen the man who killed his daughter face to face. He called the sentence a slap on the wrist.

"This is not justice," he said. "There are no consequences for your action."

Roberts admitted to going full speed within 150 feet of shore, Hugh McKellar said.

He said a jury should have heard the case and decided the outcome.

Roberts is represented by attorney Walter McKee of Augusta. McKee said the death was an accident.

The Maine Warden Service investigated the case. McKee said the Warden Service determined the speed could have been as low as 17 miles per hour. He said no alcohol was involved. The defense attorney also said the Warden Service found the flipper being waved by McKellar before she was struck 420 feet from shore, indicating that the woman could have been more than 200 feet from shore.

District Attorney Natasha Irving said after the hearing that the investigation estimated the speed of Roberts' boat at 17 to 18 miles per hour, based on witness statements.

The prosecutor issued a statement after the hearing.

"The agreement takes into account Mr. Roberts’ responsibility for this tragedy, but also the state’s conclusion that the likelihood of obtaining a conviction at trial is extremely low. Neither the District Attorney’s Office nor the McKellar family are satisfied with the outcome, but the State is convinced this result is the best that could be obtained, based on the facts and the existing laws," Irving said.

Irving said she is working with the Warden Service and representatives in the Maine Legislature to propose new laws that will promote safer boating, avoid another tragedy on Maine’s waters and hold accountable those whose actions make our waters unsafe.

Justice Daniel Billings said the agreement was a compromise and there were different ways to look at the facts. He said that it would have been a difficult case for the District Attorney's Office to have won if it had gone to trial.

The maximum sentence for manslaughter in Maine is 30 years in prison, but that is reserved for the most serious cases in which the defendant has a lengthy criminal record.

If Roberts violates terms of the agreement, he could face up to 364 days in jail for reckless operation.

Roberts spoke briefly and said he thinks about McKellar daily and the impact on her family.

A closed-door conference between the prosecution, defense and Justice Paul Fritzsche was held earlier this year, at which time the agreement was reached.

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Comments (4)
Posted by: Judith H Olson | Jul 31, 2019 07:34

RE:  Dale Hayward's comment:  Exactly right.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever |

Plea deals get made all the time. I know. My 13 year old daughter was killed by a drunk driver in Hope Maine and only got a slap on the wrist.  Convenience of settlement and no justice is the name of the game. I had to live with it. Sorry, but sounds like you do too. My prayers are with you for I do know how you feel!

Posted by: Judith H Olson |

How terrible for the family and friends who have survived Kristen McKellar.  There's not an ounce of justice in this sentence---cannot imagine that Justice Billings APPROVED such an outrageously wrongful Plea Agreement and that Natasha Irving would be involved in the process of crafting such an obviously flawed plea deal that totally benefits the defendant and totally ignores the victim and her survivors.  This matter requires a thorough investigation because there is something flagrantly wrong here.

Posted by: Katie Drinkwater |

Posted by Dee Urquhart:  THIS SENTENCE IS ABSURD!  District Attorney, if this were your child, would you find this acceptable? I highly doubt it.  A life was taken. A LIFE was taken due to negligence. You need to do more. You will be voted out come re-election time.

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