The man accused of killing 16-year-old Joyce McLain nearly four decades ago was found guilty of murder Thursday by a Superior Court judge, culminating one of the longest homicide investigations in Maine’s history.
Philip Scott Fournier, 57, of East Millinocket did not react, but his attorney described Fournier as upset.
McLain’s family clapped, then wept and hugged one another after Justice Ann Murray announced the verdict at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor a little more than two weeks after the trial ended on Feb. 5.
The victim’s mother, Pamela McLain, was predictably elated by the judge’s ruling.
“It took 37½ years, and you’ll never see a happier mother than this one is right here, right now,” McLain said. “How do we feel? We’re here, and this is the end.
“We have a lot of backing, and we made it the last mile,” McLain added, saying she always knew that her daughter’s killer would be caught but found the trial traumatic.
“I wasn’t prepared for the end. I wasn’t prepared for the court time. I just wasn’t prepared for this,” McLain said.
Speaking of her daughter, McLain said, “We made it, girl. We made it. We done this together.”
The judge’s finding vindicated McLain’s persistence. Starting in 1986, she pursued other agencies to take over the case, cooperated with crime-solver TV shows, pursued suspects on her own, and formed an advocacy group that raised money for her daughter’s exhumation in 2008.
Thursday, McLain said she harbored no ill will toward the Fournier family, who still lives in East Millinocket.
“I feel very bad for his family, his siblings and grandparents, his aunts and uncles. I feel very badly for all of them, and will visit, if they will have me there,” McLain said. “I don’t hate Scott. I don’t hate them. It’s over.”
Members of the Fournier family declined to comment after the trial.
Fournier waived his right to a jury trial, leaving his fate in the judge’s hands.
He confessed to the crime multiple times in the intervening years, but his attorneys called those statements into question and highlighted the lack of forensic evidence collected from the murder scene.
In finding Fournier guilty, Murray cited his confessions, including his statement to a minister that he did not rape McLain because “it was the wrong time of the month.” The autopsy showed that McLain was having her period, Murray said.
She also told the crowded courtroom that Fournier’s theft of an oil truck within hours of McLain’s death could be interpreted as “consciousness of guilt.” Murray concluded that Fournier’s statements to police on May 15, 1981, nine months after the slaying, “constitute different stories as opposed to filing in gaps in memory.”
The impact of McLain’s death, and the absence of an arrest for so long, has been felt throughout the Katahdin region. A place known for its friendliness became much more suspicious, residents recalled long after the slaying. Gossip, not arrests, identified possible killers. Doubt infected relationships, and slight behavioral eccentricities became grist for more rumors in restaurants, neighborhoods and the workplace.
Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea, who prosecuted the case along with Assistant Attorneys General Leanne Robbin and Lara Nomani, told reporters outside the courthouse that her team was “ecstatic with the verdict that the court rendered today.”
“It has been a long time in coming and we’re elated with the verdict,” Zainea said. “ Her findings of fact today were very thorough, very complete and very insightful. It’s the verdict we were hoping for based upon the evidence.”
Fournier’s attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein, said that his client “is quite upset and disappointed” in Murray’s decision.
“We had put a lot of work into making a presentation that we thought addressed the state’s case squarely on all points,” Silverstein said outside the courthouse. “Her decision today, finding him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, stands in stark contrast to 35 years worth of police who diligently worked this case, who knew all of the facts that she knew — with the exception of Mr. DeRoche — who felt that there wasn’t even probable cause for arrest.”
DeRoche, a janitor at Bangor High School, testified that in June 1989, when he worked at what was then Husson College, Fournier, who worked there a year, confessed to killing McLain. DeRoche testified that he informed Husson security but did not talk to police until after Fournier was arrested.
Murray said she found DeRoche’s testimony “clear, believable and compelling.”
Silverstein said the verdict would be appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court but he did not say on what grounds.
McLain was last seen alive at about 8 p.m. on Aug. 8, 1980, jogging near Schenck High School in East Millinocket, according to testimony. Her partially clothed body was found at about 6 a.m. on Aug. 10, 1980, behind the school’s athletic fields. The back of her skull was caved in, and her hands were tied behind her back with a blue cloth.
No fingerprints were found at the scene and no identifiable DNA was recovered from McLain’s clothing. She had not been sexually assaulted.
Efforts to link a possible murder weapon through forensics to McLain’s body and to Fournier or any other possible suspects were unsuccessful.
Zainea in her closing argument urged the judge to believe the confessions Fournier allegedly made to his pastor and his parents in 1981 and to DeRoche eight years later. The prosecutor asked Murray not to consider that it took police decades, until March 2016, to arrest him.
Silverstein argued in his closing that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Fournier was guilty of murder. The defense claimed that Fournier’s statements were unreliable because he made them after suffering a traumatic brain injury.
The day before McLain’s body was discovered, Fournier burglarized a local garage and stole a fuel truck at about 3 a.m. He crashed into a passenger vehicle less than a mile away in Medway and suffered a skull fracture. Fournier’s injury that night, the defense maintained, led him to confuse his own memories with things he’d been told and with dreams.
He faces 25 years to life in prison.
Fournier has been held at the Penobscot County Jail since his arrest March 4, 2016, unable to post $300,000 bail. He will continue to be held there until sentencing. A sentencing date has not been set.
Silverstein said outside the courthouse that he did not expect Fournier to be sentenced until April or May.
Zainea and Silverstein both said they had not yet thought about what sentence each would recommend to Murray.
BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to this report.