CANTON — Phillip B. Goolden was remembered Monday morning as the life of every family get together, by his widow, Bridget Goolden.
“His laugh, oh his laugh, it was contagious,” She told St. Lawrence County Court Judge Jerome J. Richards before shaking and crying. “I miss that sound so much.”
On April 6, 2018, her husband was shot and killed by his friend, Michael A. Gagnon.
Monday morning, Mrs. Goolden was in court to see Gagnon sentenced to 12 years in prison for the crime.
There were no winners in this case, St. Lawrence County Court County Court Judge Jerome J. Richards said.
Gagnon, 51, of 711 Jefferson Ave., Ogdensburg, was sentenced for his May 7 guilty plea to the reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter in a plea deal with the district attorney’s office.
“The choice I made to agree to the plea deal was only because I was trying to protect the only thing left to protect, my husband’s character. Mike Gagnon’s defense team were ready and willing to drag my husband’s name through the mud. I was not going to let that happen. It’s been the only thing I’ve had control over this whole time. So many of his family members and my two older daughters have been upset with me since. I will never know if I made the right choice and guess I will have to learn how to live with that.
“I’m so thankful for the years God gave me with Phil. We’ve lived a lot of life in a short period of time. Some people will never have that in their lifetime. The joy and life he brought into my world is priceless and the three beautiful girls Phil gave me let me know his life will live on. I have been blessed. Mike Gagnon will never be able to take that from us. I went from counting the years we’ve been married, which would have been 28 on April 27, 2018, to now counting the years I will be without him.
Gagnon’s court appearance at the time of his plea was intended to be the start of jury selection for a trial under his original charge of second-degree murder.
He took the deal instead of rolling the dice at trial after hearing the court’s commitment to sentence him to 12 years in prison, which became a bone of contention with the defense, initially arguing that the 12-year sentence was a cap and, in a memorandum to the court, sought a five years prison sentence. That was shot down by Judge Richards who said it was clear that Gagnon would be sentenced to 12 years in prison, no more, no less.
The 12-year sentence was a “credit or reward” to Gagnon for his taking the initiative in resolving the case with the district attorney’s office, Judge Richards said.
“There is no sentence that could be imposed ... that’s going to bring Mr. Goolden back. It doesn’t change the behavior that Mr. Gagnon engaged in to cause the result that it caused. It’s a lose situation for everyone. There are no winners.
“Because the parties have sentenced the facts of the case ... there are certainly a lot of unanswered questions, a number of which only the defendant knows the answer to, questions that are not required by law to be answered because of the plea that the defendant entered. The defendant took a life and ... the fact is there are people who obviously and truly and dearly loved Mr. Goolden and their pain is obvious and their pain is not going to be taken away by any sentence that is imposed.”
And although Gagnon admitted that he intended to cause serious physical injury to Mr. Goolden by shooting him with a high-powered rifle, resulting in his death, District Attorney Gary M. Pasqua said the intention had always been to kill Mr. Goolden.
Mr. Pasqua was glassy-eyed as he addressed the court and talked about the many conversations he had with Mr. Goolden’s family.
“Listening to Mrs. Goolden speak today, so eloquently, better than I ever could for her and her family, certainly brings emotion to me . . . because of that bond and closeness that you form with a family in a case like this,” Mr. Pasqua said after the sentencing. “I know what they have dealt with, I know what she’s gone through and I know what she is still going through with people thinking that she should have pushed for a longer sentence or told me not to make any sort of deal whatsoever, but at the end of the day, I think she did what was best for her family in her view and I don’t disagree with that in any way, shape or form and I think she showed a lot of strength today.”
Gagnon told the court “I deeply regret what happened that night. There isn’t a day that goes by without thinking about what happened and I’m deeply sorry about what happened.”
Had Gagnon been found guilty after trial for murder, Gagnon faced 25 years to life in prison.
As a part of the plea deal, in addition to his prison sentence, he will be sentenced to five years of post-release supervision.
He will also have to pay $6,000 to the New York State Crime Victims Board, which paid for Mr. Goolden’s funeral, Mr. Pasqua said. He added that the plea deal was agreed to by Mr. Goolden’s family.
He also waived away appeal rights, and will have to pay an additional $675 in court fines, fees and surcharges that would also require him to submit his DNA into a state database.
During Gagnon’s March suppression hearing, witnesses, including Gagnon’s friend John Dishaw and members of state and local police, described a gruesome scene of blood, brain and skull matter scattered about Gagnon’s kitchen where Mr. Goolden’s lifeless body was found on the kitchen floor.
Among the evidence collected at the scene were two cell phones and the lever-action Marlin .30-30 hunting rifle belonging to Gagnon that police allege he used to fire the single gunshot to the head that killed Mr. Goolden.
During the hearing, officers said that from the moment they arrived, Gagnon’s demeanor was calm.
His friend, Mr. Dishaw, testified that he was speaking gibberish and wasn’t making any sense when he told him over the phone that a man had attacked him, was trying to kill him and that he shot and killed the alleged intruder. Officers also testified to Gagnon making similar statements to them, including “‘this (expletive) coming through your door, I keep a loaded gun and I used it,’” according to Ogdensburg Police Officer Joshua Sirles.
“There will be no golden years for Bridget and Phillip Goolden,” Mrs. Goolden told the court Monday. “Your honor, the woman who stands before you today is not the same woman that was tucked into bed on April 6 of 2018 and kissed on the cheek by her husband. She died when he did.”
Her path forward, while filled with terror because she never expected to be a 45-year-old widow is also filled with hope, Mrs. Goolden said.
“Just like a tornado that devastates a small area and nothing ever looks the same, eventually the sun does come out, grass regrows, strong roots from trees remaining allows smaller versions of themselves to poke through the earth and flowers blossom once more,“ Mrs. Goolden said. “Your honor, I choose to see the flowers and they are all around me.”