EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Maine State Deputy Attorney General William Stokes doesn’t want to share a 33-year-old murder investigation with the reality TV show “Cold Justice,” and the victim’s mother is displeased.
Interviewed late Friday afternoon, Stokes said allowing the show’s real-life investigators to examine the voluminous state police investigation would probably violate state law regarding case confidentiality and perhaps ruin any chances of catching Joyce McLain’s killer.
Stokes said that allowing the investigators to review the case would set a bad precedent. It could break state laws that keep Maine law investigation data confidential, Stokes said.
It could also compromise a common but crucial investigative technique, Stokes added. Police typically withhold publicizing key elements of a crime to ensure that they are dealing with honest witnesses.
“I don’t see how you distribute this case, or any other open case, to a TV show,” Stokes said. “It just does not make any sense.”
His decision dismayed Patrick Day, a Rockland resident and East Millinocket native volunteering to help McLain’s mother, Pamela, in her quest to get justice for her daughter.
A TNT network show that employs former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and crime scene investigator Yolanda McClary to solve old unsolved crimes, “Cold Justice” could have helped state police while drawing national attention to the unsolved homicide, Day said.
“They are experts. They have 40 years of expertise in cold case investigation,” Day said Saturday. “Just because they are TV personalities does not mean that they have lost their expertise or will compromise any evidence.”
McLain declined to comment on the matter Saturday but said she might be available Sunday.
“Pam is devastated,” Day said. “In my opinion, we have lost a perfect opportunity to have a team of experts review the case and not cost anything.”
Joyce McLain was a 16-year-old sophomore at Schenck High School in East Millinocket when she was killed sometime during the night of Aug. 8, 1980, state police have said. She was last seen jogging in her neighborhood. Her bludgeoned body was found on school grounds.
State police have declined to discuss exactly how far their efforts have reached, but they include an exhumation, interstate and foreign-country trips and occasional sweeps through the Katahdin region. They have a dozen suspects, they have said.
Outside experts and TV shows have reviewed or assisted the investigation before. Internationally-renowned forensic experts Drs. Michael Baden and Henry Lee examined McLain’s exhumed body and reviewed the case’s evidence in 2008 as part of an effort funded by Justice for Joyce, a group of Katahdin region residents formed to keep the case alive.
FBI investigators have reviewed aspects of the case, state police have said, but have refused McLain’s urging to take control of it. The TV show “Unsolved Mysteries,” hosted by the late Robert Stack, ran a segment on the show in February 1989. Authorities received 49 tips from it that they pursued.
One key difference between those efforts and “Cold Justice,” Stokes said: The “Cold Justice” producers want case elements shipped to their lab in Texas. That risks breaking the chain of evidence, the legally-required handling of case materials that ensures that the elements are not tampered with.
Baden and Lee reviewed the case with state police in state police facilities, thereby ensuring the chain. Stokes said he respects the show’s intent and the expertise of its investigators, but cannot allow the case to be sent away.
“The reality is that I don’t have any control over what they do with the case,” Stokes said, adding that he also couldn’t see allowing the release of all such cases.
Day objects to aspects of Stokes’ reasoning. He said Stokes told him that state police sent some case files to Baden for review and wonders why they can’t do the same for “Cold Justice.” Stokes also refused to allow the show access to the case if the investigators came to Maine, Day said.
“It’s a perfect example of why ‘Joyce’s Law’ needs to be implemented,” Day said.
”Joyce’s Law” is a bill up for state legislators’ review that would allow families of victims to force state police to turn over cold cases to outside agencies. McLain and Day’s biggest frustration is how state police insist the case is active, but state police Col. Robert Williams told McLain last year that police had taken the case as far as they could.
To Day, Williams’ statement sounds like state police are treating the homicide like a closed case while maintaining that it is open. Stokes denied this, saying that police have solved cases that predate McLain’s and continue to work it.
But Joyce’s Law could conflict with the Criminal History Record Information Act, Sections 611-614. The law prohibits the release of investigative data if it “will interfere with the ability of a court to impanel an impartial jury; constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy; disclose the identity of a confidential source or information furnished only by the confidential source; or disclose investigative techniques and procedures or security plans and procedures not generally known.”
While that law allows greater flexibility to prosecutors and police than its predecessor, which maintained simply that police investigations shall remain confidential, Stokes said that both laws almost guarantee that police investigations that are not “closed” by an arrest would remain confidential unless the confidentiality is challenged in court.