February 21

Cold case squad would fight for Maine families seeking answers

Family members of loved ones who have been killed testify in favor of a bill to create a new investigative unit, but cost remains a barrier.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Judith Richardson waited patiently for more than three hours Thursday before she got her chance to speak.

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Judith Richardson talks about the unsolved 2010 killing of her daughter Darien Richardson while testifying Thursday at the State House in Augusta during a public hearing on a bill to create a cold case squad to investigate unsolved homicides.

Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

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Lise Ouellette talks about the unsolved 1999 murder of her daughter Ashley Ouellette on Thursday.

Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

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She walked to the podium and addressed the members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. She wore a button on her lapel with a photo of a smiling woman and the words “Remember Darien.”

“I know what it’s like,” she said. “For us, it’s been four long years not knowing. For others, it’s been much longer. Every day we wait for police to call. I wonder all the time if the person who did this is close by.”

Darien Richardson was killed after masked intruders burst into her apartment in Portland and shot her in January 2010. She died more than a month later from complications from injuries she suffered during the shooting. Her killers have not been found.

Her mother testified Thursday in favor of a bill that would create a four-person investigative squad within the Attorney General’s Office devoted to cold cases. Judith Richardson acknowledged that having a cold case squad may not solve her daughter’s murder, nor will it bring her back.

“But we can send a message that our state will not give up on these (cases),” she said. “I’m aware that there is a cost, but what is the cost of a human life? What is the price for a family? We already pay the highest price.”

L.D. 1734 is sponsored by Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, on behalf of one of his constituents, Pamela McLain, whose daughter, Joyce McLain, died more than 30 years ago. Joyce McLain was just 16 when her body was found behind a school. She had been beaten to death.

McLain did not attend Thursday’s public hearing, but Stanley said she “lives it every day.”

Deputy Attorney General William Stokes was among those who spoke in favor of the bill. He said his office currently has only one person, Assistant Attorney General Lara Nomani, assigned to investigate cold cases, even though the state has about 120 active cold cases dating back to 1953. Cold cases are loosely defined, Stokes said, as those that are at least two years old with no active leads to pursue.

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 was acquitted and one case was dismissed with the option to renew the prosecution later, Stokes said.

In the 13th case, DNA from chewing gum taken from 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 successes, Stokes said, Nomani’s work is more difficult because none of the detectives she relies on for investigations is dedicated to cold cases.

The Legislature passed a measure in 2001 to create a cold case squad, but the law had a clause that caused it to expire in 2004 when the funding never came through. Funding concerns remain a decade later, although some testified that money should not derail such an important bill.

“Money, we can find,” said Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, U-Friendship. “It may be a little hard, but we can find it.”

The estimated cost of the four-person unit is about $530,000 for the first year and $430,00 for each additional year, for salaries, benefits and equipment.

Lise Ouellette also urged lawmakers to look past money concerns. Her daughter, Ashley, was killed 15 years ago. Her body was found by a motorist on Pine Point Road in Scarborough on Feb. 10, 1999. Police say the 15-year-old was strangled but her killer has not been caught.

“This might not solve my (daughter’s) case, but it could solve someone else’s,” Ouellette said. “If I won the lottery, I would give you the money.”

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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Additional Photos

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Darien Richardson was shot by masked intruders who broke into her Portland apartment in January 2010. She died more than a month later from complications from her injuries.

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