Wed, Oct 01, 2014 ●
BathHarpswellTopshamBrunswickCumberlandNorth YarmouthFalmouthFreeportPortlandCape ElizabethScarboroughSouth PortlandChebeague IslandYarmouth

'I shot her': Psychiatric evaluation ordered for accused Falmouth murderer

News

'I shot her': Psychiatric evaluation ordered for accused Falmouth murderer

FALMOUTH — Thomas Leighton, 71, returned home after taking his Labrador retriever for an hour-long walk shortly before 6 p.m. on May 3, presumably to let things settle after having an argument with his 46-year-old son, Andrew.

Andrew, now sitting on the front steps of the home at 19 Edgewater Drive, smoked a cigarette as his father approached the house. Leighton asked where Andrew's mother was.

"I shot her," Andrew replied.

Leighton rushed into the house and found his wife, Shirley Leighton, lying in a pool of blood. An autopsy later confirmed she died from a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.

Andrew Leighton made his first court appearance Monday afternoon in the Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court in Portland. Unshaven and shackled, wearing jail-issued short-sleeve yellow T-shirt and pants, Leighton shook as Justice Thomas Warren read the murder charge against him.

"You are being charged with intentionally or knowingly causing the death of Shirley Leighton," the judge said.

Although he replied to the judge that he understood the charges, Leighton said little else. His attorney, Robert LeBrasseur, said Leighton may be hearing voices in his head. The attorney received approval from the judge to order Leighton to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine if he can assist in his own defense. 

If he is competent, Warren said the state will hold an evaluation to determine if he is criminally responsible or if his act was the result of an "abnormal condition."

The events surrounding the killing of 68-year-old Shirley Leighton are described in a Maine State Police affidavit filed with the court by Detective Christopher Farley.

At about 4 p.m. on May 3, Andrew Leighton asked his father to take him to buy beer. His father refused and said instead he was going to take him to the hospital.

Leighton then pulled out a .40 caliber "baby eagle" pistol and pointed it at his father. He had purchased the gun the day before at Cabela's in Scarborough.

Thomas Leighton tried to run, but his son held him back, wrestling away his father's cell phone and saying he wasn't going to allow him to call the police.

His father broke free and ran into the driveway. Andrew pursued him at first, but gave up, calling out to him to "calm down, it's only a BB gun."

Thomas Leighton remained outside until his wife came home at 4:30 p.m. The two discussed what had happened and Shirley said she would talk with Andrew.

After waiting a few minutes, Thomas entered the house and learned the mother and son had decided to plan to go to the hospital at 6 p.m., although they believed it would likely be involuntarily.

Andrew told his mother that he had thrown the gun out the window. She checked the area where he said he threw the gun, but didn't find it.

The husband and wife agreed upon an approach to get Andrew to the hospital, but first Thomas decided to take the dog for walk.

In an interview with police at the Cumberland County Jail, Andrew Leighton said he shot his mother in the back of the head as she attempted to call Spring Harbor, a psychiatric hospital in Westbrook.

After finding his wife dead in the living room, Thomas turned around to see his son now pointing the gun at him.

"Do you want to live?" Andrew Leighton asked his father, who grabbed his son's wrist, forcing the gun up in the air. A struggle ended with both men on the ground, Thomas on top of his son asking him to hand over the gun. 

During the struggle for the gun, Thomas said he thought he might be having a heart attack and needed some medicine. They stood up. Andrew walked toward a cabinet.

Thomas then ran out of the house, screaming for help, with his son in pursuit. He continued to run until he saw another man in the street. Andrew stopped chasing and headed back to the house.

A five-hour standoff with police followed, with Andrew Leighton barricaded inside the house. He eventually surrendered at about 11 p.m., police said.

Neighbors interviewed after the arrest said they didn't know anything was happening until police arrived and evacuated the surrounding homes.

One neighbor, Steve Ryder, a retired insurance manager, who has lived across the street from the Leighton home for 48 years, said the family was "super" and that "you couldn't ask for better neighbors."

"They were good, what I call, 'good Mainers,'" he said. "I still consider Tom Leighton a friend of mine and I always will. I'm just so shook up about this."

Ryder said he had not gathered socially with any of the Leightons for about three years, but made small talk with Shirley as she tended to the yard.

She owned her own business, where she sewed catnip pillows, he said. She also worked at Cuddledown. 

Shirley, he said, was the more social of the couple; Thomas was friendly, but reserved.

"Basically, Tom did not socialize as much as Shirley," Ryder said. "He is kind of a laid back guy and just a good neighbor, a good man."

Their children, Andrew and his sister, Kate, were nice young people growing up in the quiet neighborhood, Ryder said.

Andrew Leighton, who had been living with his parents for the last six years, according to the police report, had come back to live with his parents after a divorce.

Although Ryder said he had not talked with Andrew since he moved back, he remembered him as teenager.

"I know my girls, all the girls in this neighborhood, were very fond of Andy. He was a good-looking young man," he said. "But if you want to know if there were any problems with him, the answer is no."

In court on Monday, Leighton did not enter a plea. He is being held at Cumberland County Jail without bail, pending the results of the psychiatric evaluation.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow Will on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.