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Maine Sunday Telegram (Portland, ME)

November 9, 1997

Author: Jason Wolfe Staff Writer, Staff writer Alan Clendenning contributed to this report.

Anger and alcohol always got the better of Richard A. Weymouth.

A drunken street fight in 1966 ended with a bullet in his chest, paralyzing him from the waist down. Strong and agile in his wheelchair, Weymouth brawled in bars and wrestled with police. One night early this year, police say, he shot a bullet through an apartment window in an alcohol-fueled rage sparked by prejudice.

Last Thursday, a police officer shot and killed Weymouth in a cramped High Street apartment where the 55-year-old had spent the afternoon drinking booze and arguing with friends. Police say he refused orders to put down a knife he wielded from his wheelchair.

State investigators are continuing to look into whether the shooting was justified. Meanwhile, a picture of Weymouth’s turbulent life has emerged from court records and interviews with his family and friends.

When sober, they say, he was capable of kindness and generosity. He baked for his elderly neighbors and often gave a portion of his disability check to charity. He struggled to find happiness, they say, and became a caring father figure to his son’s four half-brothers.

But they also describe Weymouth as depressed and bitter about his lot in life. He too often turned to the bottle to forget his woes, making him more defiant and prone to ugly words and violent acts.

Gail E. Wallace had a child with Weymouth in 1978 and kept in touch with him through the years. His death left her defending the flawed man whom she once loved.  “No matter what he was or what he did, he didn’t deserve to die that way,” she said.

Weymouth’s problems with the law – and alcohol – began before he turned 20.   He and his sister, Donna Connor, were raised by their grandmother in Portland’s East Deering neighborhood. Weymouth dropped out of high school and joined the Marines in 1960.

Two years later, he was back in Portland, carving out a reputation as a troublemaker and a street thug who hung around the city’s seedy bars.

Builds lengthy rap sheet

Weymouth racked up criminal charges for assault, larceny, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness. He spent 30 days in the county jail for resisting arrest. He married in 1965 and was divorced within a year.

In 1966, he started feuding with another Portland man, Richard A. Stewart Jr.  During the summer, Weymouth bashed Stewart in the head with a soda bottle and spent 60 days in jail.
Weymouth confronted Stewart again in October. This time, Stewart was armed with a .25-caliber revolver. Stewart later told a jury Weymouth came at him wildly swinging two sticks after threatening to kill him. The gunshot wound damaged Weymouth’s spinal cord, leaving him a paraplegic.   The jury cleared Stewart of wrongdoing.

At 24, Weymouth faced the reality that he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He was in and out of hospitals and halfway houses for years. He also lived on and off with his younger sister.

“He didn’t cope very well when it first happened,” Connor said.   “We talked to him and tried to help him. . . . Then he started drinking again.”

He also returned to his  “rowdy” friends, she said. In 1973, Weymouth was one of three people charged with stabbing, beating and robbing a man in a Kennedy Park apartment. Three years later, he was accused of smacking a man in the head with a pool cue in a local tavern. He received a 90-day jail sentence in 1977 for assaulting a police officer.

Wallace said she saw a different, softer side of Weymouth when she met him in the mid-1970s. He was charming in his own way, she said.  “He was just someone you could sit and talk to, you know,” she said.  “Dick and I could talk for hours.”

Weymouth moved in with Wallace, then a single mother of four young boys. At one point, they lived in a third-floor apartment. She remembered dragging him and his wheelchair up the stairs.

Most days, she said, he would sit and stare out the window.  A son, Richard A. Weymouth II, was born in 1978. Wallace and Weymouth drifted apart, but he kept in touch with his son and her other children, she said.

Troubles keep mounting

Weymouth’s troubles with the law continued. In 1980, police said he was drunk and belligerent during a dance at the Cumberland County Civic Center. A few weeks later, he was arrested on Congress Street and charged with illegal panhandling.

In 1981, he tried to snatch a Windham police officer’s gun during a scuffle. The police chief at the time was quoted as saying that Weymouth “isn’t held down much” by his wheelchair.

Ten years ago, doctors at Togus Veterans Hospital amputated Weymouth’s left leg as a result of circulation problems. They wanted to take both legs, Connor said, but her brother, always stubborn, said no.   “He wouldn’t let them. He said one’s enough,” she said.

Soon after, Weymouth decided to get a fresh start, she said. He wanted to go someplace where he wouldn’t be hounded by his reputation. He found an apartment in Woodlawn Terrace, a public housing high-rise apartment building in Brunswick.

For almost a decade, he stayed out of trouble, family members said. He liked to wheel around town, stopping most mornings at the Shop ‘n Save on Maine Street for coffee and to return videos. He watched hundreds of movies on a VCR his sister gave him for Christmas. He shunned a motorized wheelchair because he wanted the exercise. He kept a neat appearance.

Officials at the Brunswick Housing Authority said Weymouth never gave anyone in the building any trouble, although not all of the friends he brought around were welcomed.

He even got a job, working first at an electronics store in Brunswick and later in a shoe factory in Lewiston. Last summer, he befriended a lobsterman at Cundy’s Harbor and accompanied him on the boat, baiting his own trap.

“The only time I ever saw him happy was when he was working,” Connor said.  “He seemed to find meaning in his life.”

Weymouth saved money and bought a handicapped-equipped 1992 Chevy Cavalier. He kept  “his pride and joy” polished and sparkling, his sister said.

Laid off from factory

But his new life began to unravel last year when he got laid off from his job in the shoe factory. At some point, he began taking Prozac to treat depression, family and friends said.

He started drinking more heavily. At some point, he became friendly with Raymond Bernier, 61, and Cherie Andrews, 38, drinking buddies who were with him the day he died.

In February, police say Weymouth told Andrews he was angry and wanted her to stop seeing Kenneth Maxwell, an African-American man. He used racial slurs and threatened to shoot them, according to police.

Police believe he carried out his threat, shooting through the window of a Maine Street apartment from his car, then speeding off. No one was hurt. He denied the allegation. The case was set for trial.

A week after the alleged incident, Weymouth’s car was stolen. The police report was taken by Officer Shawn O’Leary, the same officer who shot Weymouth. The car was later found damaged in Florida.

A judge ordered Weymouth to stay out of Brunswick while free on bail. He lived with his sister during the summer. The restriction was lifted in September so he could return to his apartment.

But he remained prohibited from drinking alcohol or seeing Andrews, and he could leave his apartment only to shop or see the doctor.

Connor said her brother grew more and more depressed about the recent setbacks. She also learned he was seeing Andrews again. “I said to him, `Why?’ He said, `Donna, she’s nice to me.’ ”

On Thursday, they were together in Bernier’s first-floor apartment on High Street, drinking whiskey and getting ornery.

Andrews said she and Weymouth were fighting about the earlier shooting incident. At one point, she said, he intentionally bruised her leg with his wheelchair and ran over her feet. She said she knocked him out of his wheelchair and onto the kitchen floor.

She dialed 911. Paramedics put him back into his wheelchair. A minute later, O’Leary and Sgt. Mark Phillips arrived.

Knife strapped to chair

The situation grew chaotic. Andrews saw Weymouth take out a 12-inch knife strapped to his wheelchair and, without saying a word, plunge it into his stomach twice.

Phillips sprayed him with pepper spray. The officers said they were backed up against a wall as Weymouth wielded the knife. O’Leary said he shot when Weymouth started going after him.

Investigators are trying to sort out the two major conflicts in the versions given by police and Weymouth’s friends – how close Weymouth was to the officers when he was shot, and whether he threatened them.

Family members believe Weymouth intended only to hurt himself because he knew he was going to be arrested for violating his bail and wanted to go to a hospital rather than jail.

Wallace faults Weymouth, her son’s father, for getting mixed up with Andrews again. But she believes the police overreacted in shooting him.

“That was probably his problem. He believed in people more than they should be believed in,” she said.  “He was always giving people a second chance.  Too bad they didn’t give him a second chance.”