AUGUSTA, Maine — An announcement Thursday that a state police lieutenant would oversee the state’s new cold-case squad drew an angry response from the woman whose daughter’s homicide 35 years ago inspired the squad’s creation.
Pamela McLain said she understood the squad was supposed to be overseen by the Maine Attorney General’s Office, not state police. State police announced that the hiring of a new lieutenant would cause a two-month delay in the squad’s launch and that the position would require its occupant to also oversee state police Major Crimes Unit detectives working central Maine.
“I don’t see that control coming out of the state police office is going to help us. If the AG wants to assign someone to unlock a file for them, fine, but they [state police] shouldn’t have any control over it,” McLain said Thursday.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese, chief of AG office’s criminal division, said the plan announced Thursday is consistent with state law. Under the law, the AG’s office controls homicide investigations as well as prosecutions, while state police control the hiring and direction of squad personnel, Marchese said.
Maine State Police Chief Col. Robert Williams said his organization and the AG’s office studied cold-case practices nationwide before opting to create the new position. The squad, which will consist of two state police detectives and a forensic chemist, was due to launch this week, but the lieutenant will be selected next month, he said.
“We realized that the success of the new group requires a solid foundation for its management and organization,” Williams said in a statement released Thursday. “Part of the work that has taken place over the summer was to create a process for a principled approach to selecting cases.”
“Each open homicide case will be reviewed and priority given to the cases with the greatest likelihood of being solved,” Williams said.
McLain, whose daughter Joyce’s 1980 murder in East Millinocket prompted volunteers to start pushing for a squad in 2013, has been publicly questioning state police handling of the case since 2005. She has sought outside reviews or takeovers of the case by the FBI and other agencies, even reality-TV show detectives who address unsolved cases.
The body of 16-year-old Joyce McLain was found near Schenck High School’s soccer fields on Aug. 10, 1980. McLain, who was last seen jogging the night of Aug. 8, had suffered several blunt, traumatic wounds.
State police have defended their efforts investigating the McLain case, saying they identified more than a dozen potential suspects in the case and continue to work it hard. Outside experts have reviewed the case several times. State police searched the Schenck grounds as recently as Oct. 1.
McLain’s reading of the law has its roots in the bill Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, submitted to the Legislature in December. LD 1121, “An Act To Fund the Cold Case Homicide Unit in the Department of the Attorney General,” sought what eventually became $491,662 annually to fund the three positions, plus startup costs.
The original bill that LD 1121 was written to fund indicates that the AG’s office is to have control of the squad. According to LD 1734, “The Attorney General in collaboration with the Commissioner of Public Safety shall establish a cold case homicide unit within the Department of the Attorney General to work exclusively on unsolved murders in the State.”
“The unit must consist of personnel from the Department of the Attorney General and the Department of Public Safety, Bureau of State Police and must include at a minimum one attorney from the Department of the Attorney General, 2 detectives from the Bureau of State Police and one employee of the bureau’s crime laboratory. The Attorney General shall adopt rules for the operation of the unit,” the founding bill states.
“I don’t want the same old, same old crap. If the state police could have controlled it and done anything [to solve her daughter’s case] they could have done it by now,” McLain said. “I want this unit to be a real unit that they are doing for our victims.”
Under the law, state police must control the squad’s personnel, Marchese said. The new lieutenant’s position also is not funded by the bill, so it is technically not part of the squad.
“The AG’s office does not have authority to hire a state police detective,” Marchese said.
Her office’s case control, and the “outstanding” relationship state police have with the office, is demonstrated by AG’s office personnel frequently attending crime scenes within the first hours of investigations, meeting monthly with state police to discuss cold cases, and the bimonthly meetings that resulted in the lieutenant’s position, Marchese said.
“I may not be directly in their command staff, but any request we have in a homicide case is usually honored by the state police. We work very closely together,” Marchese said.
Seventy cold cases were listed at maine.gov on Thursday. Twenty to 25 homicides occur annually in Maine. The attorney general’s office has an assistant attorney general handling cold cases full time, but state police work them when they have time, officials have said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Maine senator who submitted LD 1121.