Convicted murderer confesses at sentencing

ELLSWORTH — Convicted murderer William Morse was sentenced to serve 60 years in prison for the 2012 shooting death of a Trenton man who hired him to help in the construction of a duplex on the Goose Cove Road.

At the July 2 sentencing hearing in Hancock County Unified Criminal Court, Morse, against the advice of his attorneys, confessed to killing 61-year-old Richard Bellittieri and stealing what prosecutors said was $180,000 from the victim’s bank and investment accounts. In April, a jury found Morse, 45, of Fishkill, N.Y., and Otis guilty of murder. Morse did not take the stand during the trial; defense attorneys Jeffrey Toothaker and David Bate claimed the evidence against their client was circumstantial and suggested that others had a motive to murder Bellittieri.

At the hearing, Morse, who was living on the construction site, recounted how he flew into a rage after waking up soaked in urine on the morning after a disagreement he had with Bellittieri. Blaming his employer, Morse decided to get revenge. He described how he went to his girlfriend’s house in Southwest Harbor, got her .45 caliber handgun and called his friend Todd Ross to say he was going to kill Bellittieri.

“In my mind Rick’s already dead,” Morse told the court.

Morse said he looked for Bellittieri at several locations before finding him at the Trenton property. He said he screamed, “Why did you do it?” and in response to Bellittieri’s grin, pulled the handgun from the waistband of his pants.

“I pulled out the gun, and I blew Rick’s brains out,” Morse said. Two shots hit Bellittieri in the head; the third hit him in the foot as he fell.

Morse said he returned the gun to Southwest Harbor and called Ross to tell him, “It was done.”

“I’m truly sorry I took Rick’s life,” he told the court.

Justice William Anderson was not convinced of the sincerity of Morse’s remorse. Instead, Anderson said, Morse was “condemning the conduct of the victim before killing him.”

“It would be unusual that it happened the way Mr. Morse explained,” Anderson said.

Noting that Morse had ample time to size up Bellittieri’s financial situation and learn that his victim would not immediately be missed, Anderson said he believes the murder was planned and not a spontaneous act spurred by retribution for what Morse claims Bellittieri did.

Earlier in the hearing, assistant attorney general Donald Macomber, who along with deputy attorney general Lisa Marchese prosecuted Morse and called for the court to impose a sentence of between 55 and 60 years. In Maine, murder is punishable by between 25 years and life in prison. Because of the seriousness of Morse’s crime – murder for pecuniary gain – and the number of aggravating factors to be considered when determining an appropriate sentence, Morse is eligible for a life sentence, Macomber maintained.

“Rick Bellittieri died a horrible violent death,” Macomber said. “He had to have been in tremendous fear before Mr. Morse fired those shots.”

Among the aggravating factors cited by Macomber was Morse’s extensive criminal history.

“He is a lifelong burglar and thief,” the prosecutor said, with convictions in Maine and in New York.

To illustrate to the court how the defendant failed to take responsibility or show remorse for the murder, Macomber produced a copy of a photo Morse took of himself on the day of his arrest. Morse had avoided state police at a home in Dedham by slipping out a back door and walked to a nearby convenience store, where he bought beer. In the photo, Morse, smiling in celebration, raised a can of beer to the camera.

Robert Dillon, a childhood friend of Bellittieri, addressed the court and read statements from two other friends regarding the impact the murder has had on their lives. Morse, Dillon said, was motivated by “greed, pure unadulterated greed” and should receive a life sentence.

Outside the courtroom, Toothaker said he had no idea why Morse decided to go against the advice not to address the court.

“He seems to have struck out on his own,” Toothaker said.

Morse’s decision might not have been that surprising, considering his behavior before and during the trial. Morse filed more than 200 pro se motions before the trial and had to be talked out of being co-counsel during the trial, Toothaker said.

Toothaker said he expects Morse to appeal despite his courtroom confession. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which would hear the case, most likely would uphold the conviction.

“He’s 45 and in bad health,” Toothaker said of Morse. “He’ll die in prison.”

Macomber said Morse’s confession was a first in his career as a prosecutor.

“This is the first time in 26 years that, after a jury trial, a defendant admitted to a cold-blooded killing,” he said. “Mr. Morse probably increased the sentence imposed by his callous remarks.”

Police began looking for Bellittieri in July 2013 when Bar Harbor police arrested Morse on charges that included operating while under the influence. Morse was driving a vehicle registered to the Trenton man and had in his possession documents, bank cards and other items belonging to the victim.

Morse was arrested Aug. 1, 2013, on the murder charge, just days after detectives discovered Bellittieri’s skeletal remains buried on the Trenton property.

The drunk-driving charge and charges of violating bail conditions, operating without a license and attaching false license plates stemming from the Bar Harbor incident and from the day of his arrest on the murder charge recently were dismissed by the court.

Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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