CONTRIBUTORS

For families of murder victims, the case is never cold

George Danby
Posted Feb. 11, 2014, at 1:19 p.m.

Life is an endless nightmare for families dealing with the murder of a loved one.

For those who have been waiting for years for their loved ones’ murder to be solved, the lack of closure adds another dimension of cruelty and causes frustration both for them and the detectives seeking justice.

At a time when Maine politics divide those who decide the priorities of our state government, there is a proposal by Rep. Steve Stanley, LD 1734, An Act to Create a Cold Case Homicide Unit in the Department of the Attorney General, which should be embraced by a majority of our Maine legislators and enacted into law.

There are 68 cases listed by the Maine State Police as unsolved homicides. There are many other victims listed as missing persons, likely never to return, the cause of their likely deaths unknown at this time. And there are homicides unsolved for years that are listed as active.

I have the highest regard for the homicide detectives of the Maine State Police, the city of Bangor and the city of Portland. They deserve much more credit than they generally receive in achieving some of the highest percentages of success in solving most of Maine’s homicides.

I know from personal experience that these detectives and the prosecutors of the Maine attorney general’s office are determined to arrest and successfully prosecute those guilty of the most heinous crimes, for the sake of victims’ families, and for the protection of the remaining residents of our state.

Real life is not like television; not all homicides can be solved in 60 minutes. But creating a specified cold-case unit to work exclusively on unsolved cases will help bring justice for victims whose families have already suffered the ultimate insult.

LD 1734 will create a dedicated team of two detectives and a crime lab technician who will work solely on unsolved homicide cases. Cases like the Joyce McLain murder in 1980, or Ashley Ouellette (1999) or Darrell Smith (2008), or even the more recent murder of Samantha Turner-Folsom (2011) will be given fresh, additional attention to possibly make arrests — and prosecution to hold their killers accountable.

In a state with limited resources, and competing interests, there are probably those who think that we cannot afford the cost of such a cold-case unit. To those, let’s ask, “What is the value of justice? What is our citizens’ safety worth?”

Every dollar may be precious in hard economic times, but given the manner in which much of it is expended, I’m sure that there is $400,000 that can be reprioritized annually.

King Solomon is credited with stating that “Justice will only be achieved when those who are not injured by crime feel as indignant as those who are.”

Think about it: There are at least 120 unsolved homicides, suspicious deaths and missing persons cases in Maine, according to the attorney general’s office. Isn’t it possible, even likely, that those responsible for these deaths are living next door to us throughout the state? How would we react if 120 rapists and murderers suddenly escaped from prison and were living in our midst?

Are we becoming indignant enough to act yet?

A public hearing on the proposal will be held by the Judiciary Committee at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, in room 438 of the State House in Augusta. Ultimately the decision will depend on approval by legislators who control the appropriations.

If the cries for justice and the responsibility for safety are not reasons enough for creating and funding a cold-case homicide unit, what then is the real purpose of our state government anyway?

Arthur Jette is the Maine chapter leader of the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children.

 

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