As a member of the Maine State Police and a detective assigned to investigate homicides, one of the hardest parts of my job was being unable to provide closure and justice for some families. We are fortunate to live in a peaceful state with a low crime rate, and also fortunate that of the relatively few homicides we have each year over 90 percent are solved. However, for one criminal to not be brought to justice for a violent crime against another human being is one too many.
That is why I am proudly supporting a bill to provide full funding for a cold case squad in the state. LD 1121, “An Act To Fund the Cold Case Homicide Unit in the Department of the Attorney General,” is a bipartisan bill and an excellent example of what legislators can accomplish when we put politics aside and look at the needs of Maine people.
In 2002, a cold case unit was created in Maine, but it has struggled for funding. Initially, it was hoped that federal grant money would fund the squad, but those plans fell through and the unit has not been active. During the last legislative session a similar bill to LD 1121 passed the House and Senate contingent upon federal and grant funding that was not forthcoming. On April 30, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, on which I serve, voted in favor of the state funding the cold case unit. This year, I am hopeful we can reverse the previous trend and provide funding for the unit.
The legislation repeals the requirement that is currently in statute that Maine pursue federal funding for the unit. It also repeals the provision of law that makes establishment of a cold case homicide unit contingent upon availability of federal funding. For such an important endeavor, we shouldn’t be relying on the federal government. With the state funding in 2016-2017, two state police detectives and a forensic chemist would be able to work on solving the more than 100 cold cases in Maine.
There are family and friends of victims in every one of the 16 counties in the state who are still waiting for justice to be served. We heard from several of them at the State House late last month, and I commend their courage in coming forward to speak publicly about such and incredibly emotional topic.
Two of these courageous people were the siblings of Linda Maxwell, the victim of a homicide in 1984. For 30 years, Linda’s family has waited for some news that her killer would be brought to justice. As a state trooper, I worked on this case and can attest to just how difficult it is to know that a killer is still out there. The pain and anguish that a family goes through in knowing that must simply be unbearable and only exacerbated by knowing that the state in which you live has not provided the resources that allow law enforcement to continue searching for answers.
In addition to the families waiting to find out who is responsible for crimes, there are also families still waiting to find out what has happened to their son, daughter, grandchild, brother, sister or cousin. Perhaps the most current and publicized example is Ayla Reynolds, who disappeared as a toddler in 2011. Her mother joined the Maxwell family and others in Augusta to share their stories, express their pain and hope, and to support funding the cold case unit.
New Hampshire established an active cold case unit in 2009 and has seen success in bringing about justice for victims. In fact, a retired lieutenant from that cold case unit traveled to Augusta to express his support for a similar unit in Maine.
Though it is a tragedy we have a need for a cold case unit in Maine, I am pleased that LD 1121 was unanimously supported by the Judiciary Committee, giving it an excellent chance at passage in the full Legislature. I am optimistic that this year we will have funding for the cold case unit and be able to offer some peace to families who have been waiting for far too long.
Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, is a retired Maine state trooper who represents state Senate District 6.