EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — The bill that would create a state police cold case squad to solve murders such as Joyce McLain ’s nearly 34 years ago has passed the Maine House and Senate, and Gov. Paul LePage supports it.
Legislators placed LD 1734, An Act To Create a Cold Case Homicide Unit in the Department of the Attorney General, on the special appropriations table on Monday. The squad will be formed if legislators can find the $500,000 in startup and the $424,000 in second-year funding it requires, said Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, an Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee member.
But that’s a big “if” in a state as cash-strapped as Maine. The Appropriations Committee will start reviewing LD 1734 late next month, Cain said. Rockland resident Patrick Day, a volunteer who helped craft the bill and rallied support for it, doesn’t see its passage as a money issue.
“It is about getting killers off our streets,” Day said Thursday.
Cain said she sees the same moral imperative behind the bill. She said that its unanimous support “really speaks to the fact that people can relate to the need for this unit, and they definitely feel that.”
There are currently 22 bills on the special appropriations table. Legislators will struggle to find state and federal grants or funding within existing budgets to pay for them, Cain said. If the bill does receive the money, it won’t be a repeat of 2001, when a state cold-case bill died for lack of funding.
“I’d say right now, it has as much a chance of passing as any other bill,” Cain said. “In this case, we are talking about state police positions — two state police detectives and a forensic chemist. You never know. There may be some grant funding available.”
The Maine attorney general’s office, which prosecutes homicide investigations, supports the bill. While Assistant Attorney General Lara M. Nomani handles about 120 cold cases, no state police investigator works them full-time. The cases include Bangor and Portland police investigations and missing persons cases or suspicious deaths where homicide is suspected. Bangor, Portland and state police handle murder investigations.
Those cold cases include McLain, the 16-year-old sophomore at Schenck High School in East Millinocket, who disappeared while jogging in her neighborhood on Aug. 8, 1980. Her bludgeoned body was found on Aug. 10.
State police have said they have reviewed more than a dozen suspects, but no arrests have been made. Rep. Steve Stanley, D-Medway, co-sponsored the bill in October to aid the McLain family and other victims’ relatives.
“I’d say it has a 50-50 chance of passing [appropriations],” Stanley said Wednesday.
Stanley seeks to pare the bill’s cost to $350,000 annually. Starting the squad with a few part-time positions for less money is better than having it rejected, he said. The state’s highway maintenance fund, since state police primarily patrol highways, and the state’s general fund would likely be the bill’s funding sources, Cain said.
Volunteers created @ColdCaseSquadMe on Twitter and Pass Cold Case Squad Bill Maine on Facebook to rally support. They have collected 1,834 petition signatures and will ask the state’s federal delegates for federal pilot-program funding for the squad, Day said.
“It is the right thing to do,” Day said. “The biggest thing we would want to ask people is, ‘what would you want to do if it were your brother or sister who was murdered?’”