Judge links child porn convict to 1980 McLain slaying case

By Judy Harrison and Nick Sambides Jr., Special to the BDN
Posted Dec. 07, 2009, at 9:38 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A Millinocket man sentenced Monday to 6 1/2 years in prison for possession of child pornography was identified by a federal judge as “a person of interest” in the homicide of Joyce McLain.

Just before sentencing 48-year-old Philip Scott Fournier, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock urged him to disclose to investigators whatever information he has about the 1980 slaying of the 16-year-old sophomore at Schenck High School of East Millinocket.

“If you know anything about that case,” Woodcock told Fournier, “I urge you to think long and hard about telling the police. That case has hung like a dark cloud over that community and been very painful for many people. If you can help people in that community remove that cloud, I would urge you to do that.

“I don’t know what you know,” the judge continued, “but there are many people in that community and in this state who deserve to have answers.”

Fournier did not react or respond to Woodcock’s comments. Defendants in federal court rarely address the judge unless asked a direct question.

“My client has done everything that was within his power to assist the authorities [in the McLain investigation],” Virginia Villa, the federal public defender who represented Fournier on the pornography charge, said in a telephone interview after the sentencing.

Woodcock said he did not consider Fournier’s possible connection to the McLain case in imposing the 6½-year sentence. The judge said the information about Fournier being a person of interest in the investigation came from the presentence report prepared by the U.S. Department of Probation and Pre-trial Services.

The victim’s mother, Pamela McLain, said Monday that it wasn’t clear to her how “person of interest” differs from “suspect.” She identified Fournier, whom she knows as Scott, as among the top six names out of 12 to 14 people mentioned to her by state police and others in connection with her daughter’s death.

His name emerged within a month of the homicide, she said.

“I have just always heard his name, so this is not a surprise to me that it was mentioned in court,” McLain said. “His is one of the top names, I would say, of interest. There have been at least six of them that are the most talked-about suspects, loudly, through the years. He is in that group.”

Joyce McLain was last seen the night of Aug. 8, 1980, while jogging. Her body was found two days later. Her head and neck had been hit with a blunt object.

“There were so many names,” Pamela McLain said. “A few were being said right from the beginning, and we know that all of them didn’t do it, but it [the list of people of interest] hasn’t changed much in all these years.”

Fournier, McLain said, is a person of interest because sometime after midnight on the night of her daughter’s disappearance or death, he allegedly stole an oil truck and was involved in a crash with another vehicle. The timing of the theft, McLain suspects, left investigators wondering why Fournier was behaving so rashly.

In describing Fournier’s life at the sentencing hearing, Woodcock mentioned that the defendant was seriously injured in a car accident in the early 1980s but did not give the exact date.

Fournier suffered a skull fracture in the accident and was in a coma for eight days, the judge said. As a result of lingering problems from that accident, Fournier has been receiving Social Security disability payments since the mid-1980s except for a short period between 2004 and 2006.

It was not clear whether the judge was referring to the same accident as the one mentioned by McLain.

“I don’t know if anyone knows where he was going or what he was doing [the night of the oil truck accident],” McLain said.

Fournier was 19 at the time of Joyce McLain’s death and knew her and the McLain family. Almost all of the 12 to 14 people whose names police and others connected to the case were known to the McLains as friends, acquaintances or neighbors, Pamela McLain said.

McLain wondered why the judge would mention Fournier as a person of interest in open court. She knew of Fournier’s recent arrest and looming conviction, she said, and questioned whether it might push him to cooperate with homicide investigators — assuming he hadn’t already done so.

“I don’t understand this,” she said of why his name came out now. “Is the state police doing it? Or is he doing it? Who brought it up for the judge to say? For what reason?”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gail Malone said after the sentencing that Woodcock told her and Fournier’s attorney before the sentencing hearing began that he was going to urge the defendant to tell investigators all he knew about the case because of the pain it had caused the Katahdin area community.

Maine State Police Detective Brian Strout attended the sentencing Monday but declined to comment on whether he was there because of the pornography charge or because of Fournier’s alleged connection to the McLain investigation.

Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the state police, confirmed after the sentencing that Strout is one of the detectives assigned to the McLain case but declined to confirm whether Fournier had been named a person of interest in the investigation.

“We are not naming suspects or persons of interest in this case,” McCausland said.

He also declined to say what the difference was between a person of interest and a suspect in the McLain case.

“Since we’re not naming suspects or persons of interest in this case, that’s not a question we’re going to answer,” McCausland said in response to a question about the difference between the two.

“I would also like to say that we have made great progress in the case since [the] exhumation of [Joyce McLain’s] body,” he continued. “Our detectives have done a number of interviews — either new or they’ve gone back to re-interview folks. They are making substantial progress.”

McLain’s body was exhumed in August 2008. When her casket was opened, forensic investigators made what they described as a near-miraculous find: an extremely well-preserved body and several pieces of new forensic evidence.

The presentence report Woodcock referred to at Fournier’s sentencing is prepared by probation officers for every defendant convicted of a federal felony to assist judges at sentencings. The reports are not public documents, but Woodcock routinely refers to information in them when sentencing defendants before him.

Fournier faced up to 10 years in prison, but under the prevailing federal sentencing guidelines the recommended sentence was between 6½ and eight years and one month in federal prison. His criminal history included convictions in state court for burglary and unauthorized taking in 1979, burglary and theft in 1980 and burglary in 1984. Those convictions were too old to affect his sentence on the child pornography charge.

The number of images found on his computer and the nature of those images did affect Fournier’s sentence, Woodcock said. Fournier previously admitted that he had more than 600 images and videos, including pictures of children from around the world who have been identified in previous investigations as being victims of pornographers, on his computer.

The forensic analysis of the computer revealed 635 images that depict children from 37 different groups of child pornography photos, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. All of the children were photographed outside Maine, and there were videos of adult males having sex with infants and toddlers, the judge said.

Fournier also was the subject of a 2001 investigation by what is now the Maine Department of Health and Human Services after his then-6-year-old daughter alleged that he touched her inappropriately. The department concluded, Woodcock said Monday, that it was likely Fournier had abused the girl, but criminal charges were not filed.

The defendant admitted having a sexual interest in girls between the ages of 10 and 12 when he began downloading child pornography in 2005, defense attorney Villa told the judge. She urged Woodcock to impose a sentence of 2½ to three years because since Fournier’s computer was seized, he had not sought out child pornography.

“I’m severely sorry for the pain these children have gone through,” Fournier told Woodcock. “In the past year, I’ve become aware of how devastating child sex abuse is to children and society as a whole. Through counseling and the support of my family, I’ve become aware of why I began seeking it out. I don’t think I’ll be a threat to society.”

Fournier came to the attention of officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in June 2006 when they learned he had used his credit card to purchase access to a Web site known to contain child pornography, according to court documents. On Nov. 30, 2006, investigators seized Fournier’s computer.

He was indicted on the charge of possession of child pornography by a federal grand jury in January 2009. Fournier pleaded guilty to the charge in May and has been held in the Somerset County Jail while awaiting sentencing. That time is expected to be applied to his sentence.

A half-dozen members of Fournier’s family attended the sentencing but none addressed the court.

McLain expressed sadness for the Fournier family at the defendant’s being tagged as a person of interest by the judge. McLain seldom discusses her understanding of the homicide in detail, fearing that she might make investigators’ work more difficult.

Nor, she said, would she want innocent people bearing the crushing humiliation of being thought of as Joyce McLain’s killer. That’s why McLain had hopes that the exhumation of her daughter’s body last year, and discovery of new DNA evidence, would lead to the elimination of suspects.

“That’s why I wish they [state police] would do some weeding out here. These people need some closure, too,” McLain said. “If they are not [suspects], did not kill her and know they did not kill her, imagine the hell that they are going through. I think it’s a shame. I think they [investigators] ought to weed them out and let them have some kind of a life for how many years they have left.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/12/07/news/bangor/judge-links-child-porn-convict-to-1980-mclain-slaying-case/ printed on September 19, 2014