March 18, 2010

After 26 years, suspect in killing faces trial

By BETTY ADAMS, Kennebec Journal

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Joe Phelan Thomas Mitchell, left and his attorney Jim Strong appear for an arraignment in Kennebec County Superior on Thursday Sept. 28, 2006 Court in Augusta, Maine. Mitchell is charged with the January 6, 1983 murder of Judy Flagg that occurred in Fayette, Maine. His attorney declined to enter a plea.

AP

FAYETTE — Judy Flagg spent the early morning of Jan. 6, 1983, on the phone with her siblings.

She and her sister Monica Dion, 19, talked of going ice skating that day.

Instead Judy Flagg, 23, was dead by noon, stabbed to death, investigators believe, by a man who knew she and her young son were home alone.

In September 2006, some 23 years after Flagg's death, Thomas H. Mitchell Jr. of South Portland was indicted on a charge of murdering her. Prosecutors said new tests on old evidence found Mitchell's DNA on clippings from Flagg's fingernails.

Mitchell, 52, who has spent most of his adult life in prison, has pleaded not guilty. His jury trial is set to begin the week of April 6 in Kennebec County Superior Court. He has been held without bail in Kennebec County jail since Jan. 18, 2007.

This story begins on the day Judith L. Flagg died.

Her husband, Ted, had risen about 5 a.m. that Thursday and left to work a double shift at what was then the James River Paper Mill in Chisholm, stopping to tend a small herd of cattle along the way.

He wasn't expected home until after 10 p.m. Judy Flagg and her 13-month-old son, Chad, were alone in the Watson Heights Road home.

Ted Flagg returned to the remodeled farmhouse late that night to find it dark and cool. There were no lights on, and the fire in the wood stove had gone out. When he flipped on the lights, he saw blood and his wife's body on the kitchen floor.

Chad lay atop his mother's body, cuddling her. He was smeared with blood, but wasn't physically harmed.

He ran to his dad.

Ted Flagg called the Fayette Rescue Squad, family members and police.

"Automatically, I thought it was an accident," Flagg told a reporter the next day. "It couldn't be a suicide. We had too much to live for."

To piece together what happened that morning, police talked to Monica Dion.

Dion said Judy Flagg told her about getting a call from a man who said he was a friend of Ted's and wanted to pay a surprise visit.

Flagg explained that her husband was working until late, and the caller hung up after refusing to give his name.

When the sisters chatted a little later, Dion said Flagg thought she heard someone at the door, but then decided she had been mistaken.

Shortly afterward, a man arrived at Flagg's door, saying he was a friend of Ted's. He told Flagg he was having trouble with his car stalling and overheating.

Judy Flagg called her brother, David Dion, who made some suggestions for repairs, and she conveyed the ideas to the visitor.

David Dion, then 22, offered to look at the vehicle, but Flagg said the visitor told her he was leaving.

That was the last anyone talked to Judy Flagg.

Investigators determined she died between 10:50 a.m. and noon.

Monica Dion, now Monica Conant, continued calling until 4 p.m. and, like other family members, heard only a busy signal.

"She died like she lived, trying to help someone," Conant said recently. "That's really a picture of her life. In this case, it was a bad decision."

The phone was found under Flagg's body, clutched in her right hand.

She had been stabbed repeatedly in the torso; wounds on her hands showed she tried to fight off her attacker. Blood was found in Chad's room, where the changing table was upset and a diaper pail overturned.

The murder frightened the Fayette community, particularly stay-at-home mothers with small children; longtime residents began locking their doors.

Ted Flagg told a reporter at the time that his wife had no enemies. "She couldn't kill a fly or a spider," he said at the time.

(Continued on page 2)

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