EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud promised to fund the state’s first cold-case squad to investigate homicides if elected governor, saying the issue “hits close to home” because of the 1980 murder of Joyce McLain.
“It was nearly 34 years ago that Joyce McClain was abducted and murdered in East Millinocket. 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 loved ones, and it’s how our justice system is meant to operate,” Michaud, who was educated and worked in East Millinocket, said in a statement released Tuesday.
“The current system does not provide adequate resources or attention to solve these murders. By establishing a cold case unit we can work to bring closure to family members of the victims while also ensuring justice is served,” he added.
Michaud and incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage have supported the law pretty equally, according to Patrick Day, a volunteer working to help solve the McLain homicide. Independent candidate Eliot Cutler also supports the law, said Cutler spokesman Ted O’Meara, who called the squad’s funding “a priority.”
“I support the need for a cold case unit because I cannot ever imagine the shadow of hopelessness that descends on those families who have been touched by the senseless act of murder, much less a murder that remains unsolved,” Cutler said in a statement O’Meara released Tuesday.
“We need to renew our pledge to these families to focus key law enforcement and prosecutorial resources to find answers that these families deserve and that justice demand,” Cutler added.
Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, introduced the cold case bill to help the family of McLain, a 16-year-old high school sophomore from East Millinocket who disappeared while jogging Aug. 8, 1980. Her body was discovered two days later, and her death was ruled a homicide. No one has been charged in the case. The state has about 120 cold cases.
LePage pledged his support for the law, had an aide testify on its behalf and wrote a letter to Maine’s federal legislators urging them to secure funding for it, LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Tuesday.
Michaud said he is working with Maine Attorney General Janet Mills on a plan to fund the squad. He and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in support of a pending federal grant application for as much as $300,000 that could fund the squad, Michaud’s campaign spokeswoman, Lizzy Reinholt, said. Even the timing of Michaud’s press statement — the day a new website highlighting Maine’s need for the unit was launched — was meant to be helpful.
The problem, Day said, is that no funding for the squad has materialized. The state Legislature passed the law but left the squad unfunded, and the federal grant application won’t be decided for a few months.
“In every meeting we had, everybody said it was a worthy cause,” Day said.
“I felt the Democrats [in the Legislature] were the least supportive of funding the bill and who we had the most difficulty with,” Day added. “Everybody was at fault because everybody wanted to blame everybody else as a scapegoat [for the lack of funding] and the problem with that is, the victims are the ones who suffer.”
Michaud’s campaign highlighted his good working relationship with Democrats when he promised Wednesday to work with the Legislature to fund the squad.
“It is Congressman Michaud who has worked for the federal funding for this. He is confident he will be able to find resources to get this [squad] off the ground,” Reinholt said.
Bennett underlined the Legislature’s blocking of several LePage initiatives as an example of Democrat-inspired gridlock against LePage-sponsored initiatives such as the squad.
“The governor does not have power to allocate money. That is the Legislature’s responsibility,” Bennett said. “We have suggested ways to fund things [and had them blocked]. The Legislature has the ability to allocate the money, and they have chosen not to.”
No one from the three gubernatorial campaigns offered specific strategies to fund the squad.
“Any candidate for governor can’t identify all the sources of funding until they get into office,” Reinholt said.
“I cannot and will not make promises about funding this or other programs before I am elected,” Cutler said in his statement.
Day said he hoped the squad would be funded no matter who Maine’s next governor is, but he still has doubts, he said.
“I wish I had that much faith,” he said. “My belief is that they [Michaud’s campaign] are absolutely 100 percent behind the funding, and I would hope the other two candidates feel that way because this is one issue that should never be about politics.”