State Rep. Stephen Stanley has seen the emotional toll that 34 years have taken on Pamela McLain since her daughter was murdered in 1980.
Stanley, a first-term lawmaker from Medway, grew up in neighboring East Millinocket with McLain and had her in mind when he submitted a bill proposing the state’s first specialized squad to re-investigate cold cases, like that of 16-year-old Joyce McLain.
The girl was a sophomore at Schenck High School in East Millinocket when she was killed on Aug. 8, 1980. She was last seen jogging in her neighborhood. Her bludgeoned body was found two days later behind the school.
Stanley said his friend has lived with the loss every day since then – and the knowledge that her daughter’s killer has never been found.
He said he didn’t consult McLain before submitting his bill, which was scheduled for a hearing Thursday in front of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee before the hearing was postponed because of anticipated bad weather.
“I’m not saying this cold case squad is ever going to solve it. It might never even get solved,” Stanley said. “If we can help anybody by doing this, if it brings a sense of closure to the families, we’ve done a good thing.”
Pamela McLain declined to be interviewed for this story.
Stanley’s bill would create a four-person unit in the state Attorney General’s Office to work exclusively on cold cases, with a prosecutor, two state police detectives and a state crime laboratory employee. The unit would cost about $530,000 in the first year and about $430,000 in each subsequent year, for salaries, benefits and equipment the unit would need for its work.
Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, who supports the bill, said his office has been advocating for a dedicated cold-case squad since he became chief of the homicide division in 2001, if not longer. The perennial problem has been a lack of money.
The Legislature passed a measure in 2001 to create such a squad, but the law had a clause that caused it to expire in 2004 when the funding never came through, Stokes said.
Maine now has 120 cold cases dating back to 1953, including unsolved homicides, missing-person cases in which crimes are suspected, and suspicious deaths that have not been deemed homicides but may have been crimes, Stokes said.
Maine State Police investigated most of those cases, which are listed on the department’s website. Portland has 10 cold case murders and Bangor has three. Those cities have their own homicide units. The attorney general’s unit would primarily investigate the state police cases.
Stokes said he has discussed Stanley’s bill with both cities’ police departments and made agreements with them that the cold case unit would provide indirect help.
“We would have the resources to work with Portland and Bangor, but state police would not take Portland cases or Bangor cases,” he said.
The unit’s work could include re-examining old evidence with new technology, doing DNA and chemical analysis, re-interviewing witnesses and following new leads.
Maine has an average of about 24 homicides per year. Cold cases are generally those older than two years, but that’s not a fixed definition, Stokes said. “It’s a case where there have been no active leads, and there haven’t been for some period of time,” he said.
Details are sparse on many of the older cases. Just over half of the cases involved men. Many of the female victims were young women. Two of the female victims were babies, including a newborn whose body was found by a dog in a gravel pit in Frenchville.
SUPPORT FROM VICTIMS’ FAMILIES
One of Portland’s cases is the death of Darien Richardson, who was shot along with her boyfriend, Cory Girard, as they slept on Jan. 8, 2010, in her apartment. Richardson, 25, survived wounds to her thigh and hand, but died suddenly on Feb. 28, 2010, while visiting a friend in Miami, from a blood clot caused by her injuries. Girard was shot in the arm and survived.
Richardson’s parents, Judith and Wayne Richardson of South Portland, have waited nearly four years for answers about their daughter’s death, knowing that her killer is still out there.
“Four years is long enough. I can’t imagine going 20 years and not getting any results,” Judith Richardson said. “I remember saying that when it was two years: I couldn’t take it if it was three years.”
Her parents said Richardson was terrified after being released from the hospital 20 days after the shooting, traumatized by what had happened and afraid the shooter might come back. She moved back to her parents’ house in South Portland, cut her hair to alter her appearance dramatically and started getting counseling.
“She wasn’t totally recovered,” said her mother. “We were so relieved that she lived. Then you go through it again. When she went to Florida to get away, we thought it was a good thing.”
The Richardsons said they know that if even lawmakers approve funding for a cold case squad, it will not take over their daughter’s case, which remains a Portland police investigation. But they still support the bill, saying it would be an indirect help to them and could do much for all of the other families in Maine who are in the same position.
Because police have limited resources, they have to focus on newer cases, said Judith Richardson. “Every time you hear of another crime, ours is just being pushed back further,” she said.
Sitting in her kitchen with portraits of her daughter on the table, she said, “It’s just this cloud that hangs over you. I think about it every morning, every night.”
Wayne Richardson said they hope that police will call one day, saying they have solved the case. That hope helps him get through each day.
“You hope today is the day you get the phone call,” he said. “Nothing we can do will bring Darien back, but the person who did it needs to be held accountable.”
LACK OF STAFF SLOWS CASE WORK
The Attorney General’s Office now has only one prosecutor dedicated to cold cases, Assistant Attorney General Lara Nomani. Three full-time prosecutors and one part-time prosecutor handle all other homicide cases in the state, Stokes said.
Nomani worked part-time on cold cases for more than a year before the office received a federal grant in 2009 to enable her to work exclusively on cold cases for 18 months. Once the grant expired, the office decided the work was valuable enough to divert money to keep Nomani in the position full time.
“We’ve had pretty good success over the past 15 years, particularly over the past seven years,” Stokes said.
The Attorney General’s Office initiated 13 cold case homicide prosecutions from 1998 to 2013, nine of them in the past seven years. Of the 12 cases that have been resolved, seven people were convicted of murder, three pleaded guilty to manslaughter, one person was acquitted and one case was dismissed with the option to renew the prosecution later, Stokes said.
In the 13th case, DNA from the chewing gum of a homeless man in Seattle helped authorities charge him with the fatal stabbing of 70-year-old Blanche Kimball in her home in Augusta in 1976. Gary Raub, 64, is now awaiting trial.
While those 13 cases represent success, Stokes said, Nomani’s work is more difficult because none of the detectives she relies on for investigations is dedicated to cold cases.
“Lara will be working the cases, and the detectives she works with, obviously, are working on current cases,” Stokes said. “Their ability to work with her on unsolved cases, which are very intensive, is dependent on how much time they have.”
New Hampshire has had a dedicated cold-case squad since 2009, with one prosecutor and three detectives.
New Hampshire is geographically much smaller than Maine, but the two states have similar populations, of about 1.3 million people. New Hampshire has 120 cold case murders dating back 40 years, according to a state website.
Vermont, which has about half the population of Maine and New Hampshire, has no dedicated cold-case unit, according to its Attorney General’s Office.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:email@example.com