PORTLAND, Maine — A superior court judge on Friday set bail at $10,000 for a Farmington man charged with murder in the 1979 death of his infant son in Brunswick.
Burton Hagar, 62, is not likely to come up with the cash bail, his attorney Verne Paradie said, though he may be able to post the $100,000 surety.
Hagar was charged in April with murder for the death of his 4-month-old son, Nathan Hagar, who was found unresponsive in the family’s apartment on School Street in Brunswick on May 9, 1979.
He was arrested April 7 of this year at his Farmington home following his indictment for murder by a Cumberland County grand jury. He subsequently pleaded not guilty.
The death originally was attributed to sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, but Assistant Attorney General Lara Nomani said Friday that in recent years, Hagar has told previous wives, girlfriends, family members and counselors that he smothered the child with a pillow.
The state quietly reopened the case in 1991, state police said in April, and coordinated the investigation with the new Unsolved Homicide Unit.
Nomani on Friday argued against bail, saying a strong case against Hagar and a potential sentence of 25 years to life in prison give him a strong motive to flee. She said the state will call those Hagar allegedly confessed to as witnesses.
Nomani said the state will argue that when Nathan’s mother left him in his father’s care “for a very short period of time” to run errands, “Mr. Hagar went to his bedroom, selected a pillow from his bed, took it to the crib where he says his son lay sleeping, and placed it over his face for a period of minutes.”
She said Hagar then “pretended nothing had happened” and lied to his wife and investigators.
Nomani cited pediatrician’s records, police reports and statements made in interviews and autopsy reports that “showed no disease, no illness, and no injury that could account for the death of an otherwise healthy baby boy.”
“Nearly nine years later, he began making admissions to these individuals … that he had suffocated his baby boy, to some that he had murdered his baby boy, that he had placed a pillow over his head,” she said. “We’ve learned, more recently, that not only did he smother his child while he laid sleeping, but he has made statements that he had thought about doing this for days and had actually made a prior attempt and had second thoughts and ended up resuscitating him.”
Paradie on Friday stipulated that the state had probable cause to charge Hagar, but said he has lived in Maine his entire life and has substantial ties here including a minor child who lives with him and two older children. Hagar collects $735 monthly as disability, he said, and has no resources to flee the state.
Paradie said Nathan Hagar had a respiratory infection before his death and said the state medical examiner recently reviewed the autopsy, and “it’s anything but conclusive.”
“This is not as straightforward as it appears,” Paradie said, adding that he would argue in court while Hagar did make such statements to various people over many years but said his client’s statements were inconsistent and that he would argue they were prompted by guilt that his son died.
But Nomani said Hagar had been asked repeatedly “whether it was feelings of guilt prompting his confessions, or [something] he actually did, and at least twice he made it very clear he knew what he did and he knew that what he did was wrong.”
Warren said that with no other criminal charges over the years and without determining that Hagar was a danger to the community or a flight risk, he would grant bail of $10,000 cash or $100,000 surety.
After the hearing, Paradie said he would likely file a motion to dismiss the murder charge, citing a lack of concrete evidence that a crime was committed.
Nathan Hagar’s mother and Hagar’s former wife, Venus Nappi, was in the courtroom but declined through a victim witness advocate to comment.