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Maine U.S. Reps Press for Federal 'Cold Case' Funds
06/02/2014   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Nearly 100 so-called cold case homicide investigations could be reopened using cutting-edge forensic techniques, if Maine is successful in its request for federal funding. The Maine Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage approved the creation of a cold case homicide squad within the state Attorney General's Office two months ago, but limited state funds left the proposal contingent on potential federal funding. Now U.S. House Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree want Maine to be considered for a $300,000 cold case grant from the National Institute of Justice. A.J. Higgins reports.

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For 2nd District Congressman Mike Michaud, the case of Joyce McLain's murder in his hometown of East Millinocket never actually got cold. He's reminded of the 16-year-old Schenck High School sophomore's murder in the summer of 1980 every time he returns home.

"It is personal for me because I do know Pam McLain, Joyce's mother," he says. "You know, she was murdered back in 1980 and it just shocked and rocked the community."

McLain's killer has never been found and the girl's murder went into Maine's cold case files, a list of nearly 100 unsolved killings dating back to 1958. Limited resources make it nearly impossible to maintain active investigations into the decades-old homicides even though the Maine State Police have a standing policy of never actually closing the books on an unsolved murder.

Lawmakers were told this year that what's really needed in Maine is a dedicated cold case homicide squad. The Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage supported legislation to accomplish that goal this year, only to see the measure sidelined because of the bill's $500,000 price tag.

But now, Michaud says a $300,000 federal cold case grant sought by Maine Attorney General Janet Mills could provide the kind of punch the state needs to resolve some of the mysterious murders.

"I know it's a short-term type grant, but it will actually provide them the additional manpower they need to help get through a lot of these cases," Michaud says.

Michaud and 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree have sent letters to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging approval of the funds for Maine. Pingree says the money would support DNA analysis efforts.

"There's a significant backlog in processing DNA in Maine, and this funding could go a long way toward addressing the backlog for unsolved cases," Pingree says.

The grant would not provide all of the staffing for the unit originally envisioned in this year's legislation. But Maine Attorney General Janet Mills says that it would help the state resolve its cold case homicides. I

n addition to DNA and forensic biology support, she says her prosecutors would have access to a number of new tools, including forensic crime scene analysis and forensic toxicology services, "evidence collection, analyzing the cases that we have, doing a data base, a real sophisticated data base, to try to focus on those cases that are indeed solvable, and going out and collecting more evidence where it can be found and having it tested," Mills says.

Should the state's grant application be approved, Dan Levey of the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children says new hope will emerge for the families of Maine's unsolved murder victims who live their lives without answers.

"It obviously lingers for years - sometimes decades - when these cases are unsolved," Levey says. "And certainly that's another dynamic that survivors have to endure, and the constant wondering of what actually happened, and will my loved one's case be forgotten?"

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills says the state may not receive an answer on its application for another two to three months.


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