A retired chief medical examiner testified Tuesday that 16-year-old Joyce McLain died of blunt force trauma to the head but could not identify the murder weapon as the electrical insulator or the rock that were found near her body nearly 40 years ago.
Dr. Margaret Greenwald took the stand on the seventh day of the jury-waived murder trial of Philip Scott Fournier, 57, of East Millinocket at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.
In his 1981 confession to police, Fournier said he struck McLain with an insulator, according to court documents. Fournier recanted his confession a few days later and has maintained his innocence since then.
On Tuesday, Greenwald said she had compared the measurements of the injury on the back McClain’s skull to the measurements of the electrical insulator recorded by technicians at the Maine State Police Crime Laboratory.
“The measurements of the insulator’s ridges were farther apart,” she testified. “I can’t say that the insulator is what caused the injury.”
The retired medical examiner also told Superior Justice Ann Murray that the rock collected from the murder scene did not match the wound.
Prosecutors last week admitted the ceramic insulator and the rock as evidence and have implied throughout the trial that they were the murder weapons.
McLain was last seen jogging about 8 p.m. Aug. 8, 1980, near Schenck High School in East Millinocket. Her partially clad body was found about 6 a.m. Aug. 10, 1980, behind the high school athletic fields.
McLain had been dead between 24 and 48 hours when he body was found, Greenwald said.
A contributing cause of death was asphyxiation, Greenwald testified. Marks around McLain’s neck indicate that she had been strangled with an object rather than someone’s hands, she said. She could not identify what might have caused the marks.
McLain had other bruises and scratches on her face, back, arms and hands, Greenwald said, but did know how the girl got them. The former medical examiner said that because McLain bit her fingernails, no scrapings or clipping could be taken to test for blood or skin cells.
Greenwald, who served as chief medical examiner from 1997 until 2014, reviewed the original autopsy report written by Dr. Henry Ryan, who died last year, and was present for the examination of McLain’s body in 2008, when it was exhumed.
Forensic technicians from the crime lab testified Monday that no blood or DNA linked Fournier to McLain’s body or to the crime scene. They said that the heavy rains overnight on Aug. 8 and 9, 1980, may have washed away evidence.
The prosecution rested Tuesday shortly after a recording of a January 2017 phone call from Fournier, who was incarcerated at the Penobscot County Jail awaiting trial, to his sister Barbara Lyon of East Millinocket. In it, Fournier denied killing McLain.
“The reason I’m in this is because the police couldn’t find who did this,” Fournier told his sister.
He also said that he thought the police had “framed” him.
The prosecution maintains that although Fournier’s statements to police over the years have been inconsistent, he confessed to his pastor, parents and others, and knows details only the police were privy to.
Prosecutors have not told the judge why it took so long to charge Fournier.
The defense claims Fournier’s memory is unreliable because he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car crash about six hours after McLain was last seen.
The trial, which is expected to go into next week, will resume Wednesday with the defense calling Dr. Robert Riley, a clinical neuropsychologist in Augusta. He is expected to testify about how traumatic brain injuries impact memory.
Since his March 4, 2016, arrest on the murder charge, Fournier has been held at Penobscot County Jail in Bangor unable to post $300,000 cash bail.
If convicted, Fournier faces between 25 years and life in prison.
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