There is still hope even after 28 years that evidence either buried with homicide victim Joyce McLain or collected and stored away by investigators could reveal new clues as to who killed the East Millinocket teen.
“There is new technology, primarily DNA technology that may well be able to yield some new information on this case,” renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden said Saturday morning, less than 24 hours after informing Pam McLain that he will examine her daughter’ s remains.
For the past several weeks Baden, chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police and host of HBO’ s “Autopsy” show, has been reviewing the McLain case file and talking with Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, Maine’ s current Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Margaret Greenwald and former Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Henry Ryan, who performed the original autopsy 28 years ago this month.
On Saturday, Baden said the insightful and thorough cooperation he received from those officials was key in his decision to agree to go forward with the new autopsy once McLain’ s body is exhumed.
“It’ s not always the case that officials welcome you in when you start looking at these old cases,” Baden said. “That was not so here. They [state officials involved in the case] are not defensive at all. They have been extremely helpful. Dr. Ryan performed an excellent autopsy. It’ s just that today there are some new techniques available to us that may be helpful. They really want this case solved. They know the tragedy of this case, and the most important thing is to try to solve it.”
Also important to his decision was the promised help from one of the world’ s top criminologists, Dr. Henry Lee. Lee is well known for his work on the O.J. Simpson murder case and the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith in 1991. He also was pivotal in Maine’ s first trial involving DNA.
Lee was the state’ s key witness in the murder trial of David Fleming in 1995. Fleming was convicted of the 1990 murder of 18-year-old Lisa Garland of Bangor. Her body was found in an Alton gravel pit, and semen retrieved from her body was identified as Fleming’ s.
Since it was the first time that DNA evidence was allowed into a state trial court, the case was tested up through the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which upheld Fleming’ s conviction. The case established legal precedent for DNA evidence in Maine.
Noting Lee’ s stunning abilities in the area of forensic medicine, specifically DNA, Baden said his agreement to help in the McLain case was hugely important.
“He’ s a very busy, busy man not just in this country, but all over the world. He’ s the best, the absolute best and he’ s willing to make his time available. It’ s because he understands the tragedy of this case. The tragedy and the confusion that surrounds it. Sometimes in a case this old you have no suspects. In this case there are lots,” Baden said.
Lee could not be reached for comment.
When the exhumation and autopsy will occur is not yet known. Baden said he would have to coordinate his schedule with Lee’ s, that of the personnel from the Maine State Crime Laboratory and the State Attorney General’ s Office.
“We’ re going to want to have all hands on deck so it will be a matter of when that can occur,” he said.
Ryan, who retired as Maine’ s chief medical examiner seven years ago, said Saturday that he welcomed Baden’ s re-examination of the case. Ryan said no true medical professional would ever object when somebody wanted a second opinion. Ryan said he has known Baden since the two were residents at Bellevue Hospital in New York City many years ago.
Ryan said this would not be the first time a body on which he has performed an autopsy has been re-examined. “So far, no one’ s found out anything different than I had found,” he said.
“Pride is not involved here. There’ s no competition. What everyone would like is a conclusion for the sake of the family,” he said.
Ryan said Baden and Lee are extremely knowledgeable and capable, but he could not comment on specifics of the case or whether he thought there was a decent chance they would find anything that would further the investigation.
“The thing is, if there was new technology that could be applied to the evidence on file, I firmly believe that the state would have already retested that evidence themselves,” he said.
He also expressed some skepticism as to whether there would be any viable evidence on a body that had been buried for 28 years.
“Longevity certainly is an issue here,” he said.
Ryan said he would not be present for the exhumation or the autopsy of McLain. “I’ m officially off the quarterdeck, but I’ ll certainly be interested in what, if anything, that they find,” he said.
McLain, a 16-year-old Schenk High School sophomore, was killed sometime around the night of Aug. 8, 1980, while she was out on a run.
Her body was found two days later in a power line clearing about 200 feet from the school’ s soccer fields. Her head and neck had been struck repeatedly with a blunt object.
Several suspects have been investigated, but no arrests have been made, according to police
Recently a grass-roots organization, The Justice For Joyce Committee, raised more than $18,000 to cover Baden’ s expenses.
Pam McLain said the television show “America’ s Most Wanted” has contacted her and is interested in profiling the case.