PORTLAND, Maine — A former Brunswick man charged Friday with killing his infant son in 1979 pleaded not guilty during his first appearance in court on Wednesday.
Burton “Ben” Hagar Jr., 62, now of Farmington, appeared in Cumberland County Superior Court before Justice Thomas D. Warren just before 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Standing in civilian clothing beside his attorney, Verne Paradie, Hagar pleaded not guilty to a charge that he murdered his 4-month-old son, Nathan, on May 9, 1979. Hagar was returned to Cumberland County Jail.
Hagar was taken into custody just before noon Friday at his home on Marvel Street in Farmington following his indictment by a Cumberland County grand jury.
Nathan Hagar was found unresponsive in the family’s School Street apartment and died at Parkview Hospital in Brunswick on May 9, 1979. The child was originally believed to have died due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, but detectives reopened the case quietly in 1991, Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Friday.
Detectives since have gathered new information about the death and coordinated the investigation with the new Unsolved Homicide Unit, which led to the Attorney General’s Office presenting the case to the grand jury this week, according to McCausland.
An entry on the Unsolved Homicides page at maine.gov states merely that the boy’s mother, Venus Hagar, was home with Burton Hagar and their son, who was reportedly healthy and alert, when she went to visit a neighbor. When she returned later, she and her husband went to Nathan’s bedroom and found him deceased.
The indictment — impounded prior to the arrest at the request of Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam, who is prosecuting the case, and released following the hearing — provided no further information about the nature of the allegations.
Spokesman Tim Feeley said Wednesday afternoon that the attorney general’s office couldn’t comment or provide additional information on the case.
Paradie said following the hearing that he had not received any discovery about the case, and had only spoken to Hagar briefly.
Paradie said Hagar had not been charged criminally prior to 1978, and that he told the attorney that he is disabled. Paradie said he has been told Hagar has been divorced, and that one minor child lives near him in Farmington.
Hagar was held without bail, but a Harnish hearing will be scheduled to determine whether he will be allowed bail pending trial.
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Correction: An earlier version listed the wrong age for Nathan Hagar.