WARREN, Maine — Maine lawmakers eliminated parole nearly 40 years ago as a “truth in sentencing” movement swept the country.
When parole was eliminated on May 1, 1976, anyone convicted of a crime prior to that date remained under the jurisdiction of the parole board.
Fast forward to 2014, and only four people incarcerated in the state prison system remain under the responsibility of the Maine Parole Board.
Neale Duffett, the chairman of the Maine Parole Board, said parole was eliminated in Maine in large part because prisoners were being freed at their earliest possible release date by the board. He said from the anecdotes he has heard, the parole boards in the 1960s and 1970s were overwhelmed by the number of cases.
“The current system is much more effective,” Duffett said. Under the current system, judges impose sentences of a fixed number of years, often followed by probation.
A person convicted of murder under parole could have received a minimum sentence of 11 years to a maximum sentence of life. Prisoners with sentences of more than 11 years could seek parole after that minimum term was served.
The four prisoners who remain under the authority of the parole board were convicted of murder: Michael Boucher Sr., Steven R. Clark, Gaylon Wardwell and Scott Durgin.
Ten other parolees have been released from prison and supervised by the probation and parole officers.
Boucher is serving his sentence for the 1973 slaying of 18-year-old Debra Dill, whose badly beaten body was found along a camp road in Litchfield. Boucher was not apprehended until 1988; he was convicted in 1991. Authorities say he struck her car intentionally, then strangled her and struck her with a hammer after her car was stopped.
He committed crimes after 1973 but before he was apprehended for the 1973 murder.
Boucher, 63, appeared before the parole board last month and was turned down for release. Several of Dill’s family members attended a portion of the hearing to voice their strong opposition to his release.
Duffett said Boucher is the next prisoner eligible to appear before the board in May 2019.
Clark, 59, is serving a sentence for killing 23-month-old Jared Wright in Union in July 1975.
Testimony from medical authorities at Clark’s trial stated the child was covered with numerous bruises when he was brought to the Knox General Hospital on July 16, 1975. The child was not breathing and could not be revived.
The trial was one of the most prominent held in Knox County. Jury selection was so difficult that the judge ordered deputies to go onto the streets around the courthouse and bring citizens in as potential jurors when too many of the original pool of jurors called already heard about the case and could not be selected for the panel.
Clark, who was 21 at the time of the crime, was released on parole in May 1986 before being returned to prison in 1990 for possession of a firearm by a felon. Clark was released on parole again in November 1992 but returned to prison in November 2008 after using a club to assault a motorist with whom he had a verbal altercation.
At his sentencing for the 2008 offense there were several letters in support of Clark including one from the former deputy warden of the Maine State Prison, Paul Doughty.
“Many people make mistakes but few have the opportunity to turn their life around and become a contributing, caring, honest citizen. In my opinion, Steven has been able to do just that,” Doughty stated in his letter to the court.
There was also a letter submitted by the National Guard to thank Clark for volunteering for a month and removing scrap iron at the site of the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Clark was denied parole in June 2010 and will not be eligible again until May 2015.
Wardwell was convicted of murder in 1960 for strangling his 24-year-old pregnant wife Anita Wardwell, then setting fire to their home in Woodland in March of that year. The couple’s 15-month-old son Joseph also died in the fire. News reports initially called Wardwell a hero for rescuing two of his children and appearing to try to go back into the house to save his wife.
Wardwell was 25 when he committed the murder.
He was released from prison in April 1973 with the condition that he refrain from new criminal conduct. He was also barred from returning to Aroostook County. In November 2000, he was convicted of unlawful sexual contact involving a 7-year-old girl in Mechanic Falls.
The 79-year-old Wardwell has remained at the prison ever since.
The parole board rejected his last request for release in May 2012. His next opportunity to be released on parole is May 2016.
Scott L. Durgin was convicted in 1972 for the November 1971 shooting death of 60-year-old Carl Welch in Sanford.
Durgin was 19 at the time of the killing
According to a Bangor Daily News article, Durgin was on a furlough from prison in September 1976 when he assaulted a teenage girl who worked at a motel in Lincolnville. He was sent back to prison.
He was paroled from the prison in June 1982. Then in January 1983, less than eight months later, he was charged with criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm by a felon and sent back to prison.
The parole board rejected Durgin’s release at a hearing in November 2013. Durgin, 61, is next eligible for a release hearing in November 2016.
Much of the hearings held by the parole board are closed to the public, according to the state law.
Duffett said the reason behind the closed hearings is because there is considerable personal, often medical and psychological, information discussed about the prisoners.
Family and community members are allowed to testify at hearings and submit correspondence concerning a possible release of a prisoner. But when the prisoner is testifying and being questioned, no one else is allowed in those sessions.
The board is required to take into account the prisoner’s personal history, criminal history, institutional conduct, previous probation or parole and psychological evaluations, along with community sentiment that often includes statements or testimony from relatives of the victims.
There were 25 prisoners who were under the authority of the parole board when Duffett was first appointed. That number has dwindled over the past approximately 20 years to the four.
The board consists of five members, though there is one current vacancy. The members are appointed by the governor for four-year terms.
Duffett was an assistant and then deputy district attorney in Cumberland County for seven years in the 1980s before he joined a private legal practice.
Other members of the parole board include Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, attorney Lola Lea of Freeport and retired federal probation officer Richard Harburger, who is employed with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office.
Prior to Duffett joining the parole board, the majority of the board lobbied in 1990 for the reinstatement of the system, saying it was more effective and less costly than the current system. At a 1990 news conference, board members placed the blame on the earlier system’s failure on prior members whom they said incorrectly placed the burden on the state for proving why a prisoner should not be released. The 1990 board members further maintained their board was correcting to place the burden on the prisoner to justify their release.
That effort to restore parole failed before the Legislature.