February 21, 2018
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Defense points to alternate suspects in Joyce McLain murder trial

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Philip Scott Fournier is escorted into the courtroom on Monday, the first day of his jury-waived trial at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor. Fournier is charged with murder in the August 1980 death of 16-year-old Joyce McLain in East Millinocket.
By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff
Updated:

Joyce McLain expressed no concerns about her safety around boys in East Millinocket who were interested in dating her nearly 40 years ago, the sister and best friend of the slain 16-year-old testified Tuesday.

Wendy McLain of Farmington and Laura Shea Merrill of Yarmouth responded to questions from defense attorneys for Philip Scott Fournier, 57, of East Millinocket on the second day of his jury-waived murder trial at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor. Fournier is charged with killing McLain on Aug. 8, 1980, in a wooded area behind the Schenck High School athletic fields, a few blocks from where McLain lived.

Questioning about McLain’s concern for her safety is part of the defense team’s strategy to point to suspects other than Fournier. In addition to asking about men interested in dating McLain, attorneys Jeffrey Silverstein and Jon Haddow also have pointed to Peter Larlee, who discovered her partially clad body lying face down with her hands tied behind her back on Aug. 10, 1980, a day after participating in an official search.

Larlee, who became a firefighter, died of a heart attack on March 3, 2016, the day before Fournier was arrested. Larlee was 57 and serving as a captain in the East Millinocket Fire Department at the time of his death.

Merrill, under cross-examination, said Gary Friel, whose family owned a store in town, was interested in dating McLain but she didn’t reciprocate his feelings. The defense pointed to Friel as another possible alternate suspect in the killing.

“When we were in the store, he would jokingly ask her out, but she always said no,” Merrill said.

Friel, who now lives in Panama, is not expected to be called as a witness.

Authorities never named Larlee or Friel as suspects in the case.

Merrill said McLain asked her to go jogging with her on what would become the last night of McLain’s life, but Merrill declined because she was babysitting. The next day, Merrill said she went through the neighborhood with McLain’s mother, Pamela McLain, and younger sister, Wendy McLain.

“We went house to house on Spring Street asking if anyone had seen her,” Merrill testified. “I thought they were worried for no apparent reason but that was the mind of a 16-year-old.”

Merrill and Wendy McLain also told Superior Court Justice Ann Murray when they last saw the teenager alive and how they learned of her disappearance and death.

Following their testimony, Terri Federico of East Millinocket took the stand Tuesday afternoon. His family owned a garage from which Fournier stole a truck at about 3 a.m. on Aug. 9, 1980, then crashed less than a mile away in Medway.

Defense attorneys maintain that Fournier’s inconsistent statements about what he knew about McLain’s death are because of a skull fracture he suffered in that crash.

Federico said he learned of the theft and crash later that day but did not offer details about the damage.

Instead, Federico testified he saw Fournier with Leroy Spearin at about 6 p.m. the day before, Aug. 8, 1980, walking in front of Schenck High School, where local teens “hung out” the night McLain went missing.

Grant Boynton of East Millinocket testified that Fournier and Spearin were drinking with him and others the night of Aug. 8, 1980, at a party at his friend’s house. Boynton, who has been interviewed by police at least five times over the years, said he remembers Fournier and Spearin leaving the party shortly before police arrived.

“[Fournier] and Leroy went looking for more booze, then the police broke up the party,” he told the judge, but did not say exactly when that happened.

Other witnesses told police they saw Fournier and Spearin at the high school at about 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 8, 1980, according to the affidavit. A couple told police they saw Fournier running on a sidewalk near the high school and carrying a bottle at about 9 p.m. They said a male teenager they did not recognize was running behind Fournier, the affidavit said.

Spearin invoked his Fifth Amendment right to decline to answer questions about events that might incriminate him, including if he knew Fournier,

at a probable cause and bail hearing before Murray in July 2016. Because of that, neither the defense nor the prosecution has listed him as a witness.

The trial was expected to continue Wednesday morning with the testimony of more East Millinocket residents who attended the party with Boynton. Former police officers involved in the initial investigation are scheduled to testify Wednesday afternoon.

The prosecution has said Fournier confessed to killing McLain in 1981 and knows details about the girl’s death never released to the public. But prosecutors have not explained why Fournier was not arrested after he allegedly confessed or why it took so long to charge him.

Although Fournier apparently has always been a suspect in McLain’s slaying, that fact was not made public until 2009. U.S. District Judge John Woodcock identified Fournier as “a person of interest” in McLain’s homicide when sentencing him to 6½ years in federal prison for possession of child pornography. Fournier was released on Jan. 6, 2015.

Since being arrested on the murder charge on March 4, 2016, Fournier has been held at Penobscot County Jail in Bangor unable to post $300,000 cash bail.

The trial is expected to last three weeks.

If convicted of murder, Fournier faces between 25 years and life in prison.

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