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Old Town man gets nine years in prison for manslaughter

As part of a plea deal with the office of the attorney general, Johnson agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter and arson for a lesser sentence.

BANGOR, Maine — An Old Town Man was sentenced Monday to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

Joseph “JJ” Johnson, 32, and Cote Choneska, 40, of Veazie, were both originally charged with murder in the death of 59-year-old Bert Conley and then starting a fire inside Conley’s Essex Street in October 2019.

As part of a plea deal with the office of the Maine attorney general, Johnson agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter and arson in exchange for a lesser sentence.

Before the sentencing, Bert Conley’s mother, Pauline Conley, spoke to Johnson and the court about what life is like now without her son. She left Johnson with some advice: 

"I do pray as you are incarcerated that you will gain wisdom in a desire to live a life that will leave your children with a better legacy than what they face today," Conley said. "The Lord Jesus has helped me to forgive you, and instead of holding to bitterness and anger, I will focus on the cherished memories of my son, Burton James Conley."

The judge accepted the plea agreement, which was for 20 years with all but nine years suspended and four years of probation.

The man with Johnson that night, Choneska, pleaded guilty in October to the lesser charge of hindering the apprehension of his co-defendant. That came after attorneys from both sides agreed Choneska wasn’t at the scene when Conley died or when the fire began.

More NEWS CENTER Maine stories.