June 18, 2018
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Federal funding for Maine cold case squad could come from new Justice Department grants

Courtesy photo | BDN
Courtesy photo | BDN
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills
By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Attorney General Janet Mills is working with Rep. Mike Michaud to find federal funding for the creation of a cold case squad in Maine aimed at solving more than 100 open homicide cases.

The announcement from Michaud comes three days after Gov. Paul LePage sent a letter to members of the state’s congressional delegation requesting money to support a bill that has been approved by the Legislature, LD 1734, but is in danger of failure because of a lack of available state funds.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice announced it is accepting grant applications for up to $300,000 in federal funding that would support cold case units in the states. That amount would fall short of the approximately $430,000 estimated per-year cost of hiring two state police detectives, a forensic chemist and costs related to launching the unit, according to LD 1734’s fiscal note.

LePage said he supports applying for the grant funding.

“The executive branch will be proactive and apply for one of these grants to help enable experts solve these horrific unsolved cases,” said LePage in a written statement.

The federal grant money is designed to support DNA and forensic biology, forensic crime scene analysis and anthropology, fingerprinting, shoeprint and tire tread examination, review of questioned documents, analysis of trace evidence, forensic toxicology and staff time.

The deadline for applications is May 27, according to the Justice Department’s online description of the grant. The grant is aimed at funding cases that could be solved using DNA evidence, and its description makes no mention of creating a new cold case squad. One of the listed prohibited uses for the money is costs for general cold case investigations that do not involve aggravated assault, rape, murder and robbery, or have the potential to be solved by DNA analysis.

However, the grant can be used to pay for staff salaries, overtime, travel, computer equipment, laboratory supplies, consultant services and training.

Timothy Feeley, a spokesman for Mills, said Monday that the attorney general’s office learned of the new round of grants on Friday and is working with Michaud on applying for the grant.

“If the state of Maine submits an application, I will do everything in my power to advocate for this funding,” said Michaud in a written statement on Monday. “No one who is murdered or missing deserves to be forgotten by the passage of time. Bringing closure to cases is important for surviving family members, and it’s how our justice system is meant to operate.”

LePage said he was disappointed that he wasn’t contacted by Mills or Michaud about the issue.

“This is no time for the attorney general to play political favorites,” said LePage. “Had the attorney general or congressman communicated with our office about this matter, we may have been able to act more quickly in preparing the application. These families have waited long enough.”

In his letter to the congressional delegation on Friday, LePage said he began working on a bill to create a cold case squad for Maine last year. LD 1734 was then submitted by Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, in an attempt to help the family of Joyce McLain, a 16-year-old high school sophomore from who disappeared while jogging on Aug. 8, 1980. Her body was discovered two days later, and her death ruled a homicide. No one has ever been charged in the case.

On Friday, a spokesman for Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, said the two would review LePage’s request closely when they had a chance. Willy Ritch, a spokesman for Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine said in a written statement Monday that Pingree will work with the rest of the congressional delegation to see if any of the funding would be available for Maine.

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