Wednesday, December 11, 2013
AUGUSTA — Howard Klerk stood before 100 people Thursday, wearing a black and red ribbon and a button bearing the image of the niece he considered a daughter.
He wished he had good news to tell those sitting before him, many wearing similar ribbons, some quietly dabbing their eyes.
''When I stood here before you last Sept. 25, I had a dream that this year, the number of homicides in Maine would have gone down,'' Klerk said. ''What a letdown.''
About 100 people in the State House Hall of Flags observed the second annual National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. Among them were Gov. John Baldacci, Attorney General Steve Rowe and Public Safety Commissioner Anne Jordan.
Most were the family members and friends of homicide victims.
Pictures of victims were set up on tables. A red and black quilt with names was on display.
Klerk, a co-leader of the Maine chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, urged those at the event to take a stand against violent crime.
Klerk, of Richmond, said he was ''instrumental'' in the upbringing of his niece, Lisa Weaver, while living in Long Island, N.Y.
''Biologically, she was my niece but, to the world, she was my daughter, plain and simple,'' he said.
Klerk gave Weaver away at her wedding in October 1987 to Matthew Solomon, the man who would later be convicted of killing her.
Weaver was strangled by Solomon after a fight on Christmas Eve 1987. Her body was found a week later in a garbage bag in a deserted field.
Solomon was convicted in November 1988. He has been eligible for parole -- and been rejected -- twice.
''There are 23 rights in the Constitution for criminals,'' Klerk said. ''You know how many there are for victims? None. Zero.''
Klerk also denounced the use of homicide as entertainment in society, as well as the book ''Human Sacrifice,'' which advocates the innocence of Dennis Dechaine, who was convicted of the 1988 rape and murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry.
Parents of Murdered Children is a national nonprofit group providing emotional support for all survivors of homicides, not just parents. Though members of Maine's chapter organized Thursday's remembrance ceremony, it was open to everyone who had lost a loved one to homicide, and the public.
Baldacci said ''generally speaking, Maine is a safe state, but we still had 21 reported homicides here last year. That number doesn't begin to include the number of mothers, fathers, children, siblings and friends left to grieve.''
As of Thursday, 27 people have been homicide victims in Maine this year.
Deb Cunningham, who came to honor her grandson, Treven Cunningham, broke down in tears several times during the ceremony.
Treven, a 21-month-old toddler, was murdered in December 1999, along with Mindy Gould, 20, his baby-sitter and his mother's best friend, in a home in Dexter. Jeff Cookson, Gould's ex-boyfriend, was convicted of both murders in 2001.
Cunningham said she hopes the awareness from the remembrance day will grow to the point that, ''somewhere down the line, no one will have to go through what we have.''