A 62-year-old Farmington man pleaded not guilty Wednesday to killing his infant son nearly 38 years ago in the first case handled by the state’s unsolved murder unit that has led to an arrest.
Burton Hagar is being held without bail at the Cumberland County Jail in Portland. He is accused of murdering his son, Nathan, who was barely 4 months old when he died in May 1979.
State officials have not said what evidence they have uncovered has led them to seek an indictment against Hagar. Even Hagar’s court-appointed lawyer, Verne Paradie, said he had almost no information yet on the case and met his client for the first time just before Wednesday’s court session, where Hagar pleaded not guilty to murder.
“I know probably a little bit more than you,” Paradie told reporters after the session in Cumberland County Superior Court, “but that’s about it. I don’t know why it’s been brought up, but this has been really tough on him.”
Nathan Hagar’s death initially was ruled due to sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. The baby was found unresponsive in Hagar’s School Street apartment in Brunswick and died later at Parkview Hospital in Brunswick.
State police reopened the case in 1991, Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety said last week when Hagar was arrested. But neither McCausland nor prosecutors are saying what led to the decision to look into the case again 26 years ago. They also won’t say what they’ve learned since the case was taken up by the new unsolved homicide unit shortly after the unit was formed in February 2016 that led them to file charges now.
Meg Elam, the assistant attorney general who will prosecute the case, doesn’t anticipate the passage of nearly four decades will make it difficult to try Hagar.
She said the decision to try the case so long after Nathan Hagar died shows the state’s dedication to “efforts to bring people to justice.”
Elam wouldn’t say whether it was new scientific evidence, a new witness or witnesses, or some combination of the two that led to the decision to seek an indictment against Hagar. His court file only includes a few documents, such as an order appointing Paradie as Hagar’s lawyer and the one-paragraph indictment, which provides no specifics on the case.
Paradie waived Hagar’s right to seek a hearing on bail within 10 days of entering plea, but indicated he will likely seek one in the next few weeks. That’s because in a bail hearing for a murder suspect, the state needs to establish some probable cause for the charge and Paradie will get a chance to question some of the witnesses who will be called in the trial.
Paradie also said Hagar is not a flight risk, a risk to the community or likely to commit a new crime, the other factors courts in Maine consider in determining whether to grant bail to a murder defendant. Though he said Hagar has no criminal record since the death of his son, state criminal records indicate that Hagar was convicted in 1977 on two counts of possession of stolen property, a misdemeanor, and was fined $250.
“He meets 99 percent of the criteria for getting bail,” Paradie said.
Nathan Hagar’s mother now lives outside of Maine, but has been kept up to date on progress in the case, said Renee Ordway, the victim’s rights advocate for the unsolved murder unit. Ordway declined to identify the mother, wouldn’t say where she lives and would not characterize her reaction to the news that Hagar was being charged with murder in the case.
Paradie said Hagar is disabled and divorced, and has a minor child who lives near him in Farmington. He said he might seek to have Hagar held in Franklin County Jail during long stretches between court appearances to allow him to be closer to his home, but agreed with Superior Court Judge Thomas Warren that he will be held in Cumberland County Jail for now.
Warren also said he would sign an order giving Paradie access to state Department of Health and Human Services records that are otherwise off-limits for privacy reasons.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: