HOULTON, Maine — Murder suspect Reginald Dobbins‘ father expressed sadness Saturday at the death of Keith Suitter, a family friend, but said his son is innocent.
“[My son] is very honest. If he did anything — and they talked very long to him — he would admit it,” 81-year-old Reginald “Jack” Dobbins said Saturday. “I really haven’t talked to him at length about it, but the last time I spoke to him, he said that there was some misunderstanding, that he did not have anything to do with [the homicide].”
“He couldn’t even kill an animal, I don’t think,” Jack Dobbins said of his 18-year-old son. “He is really good-natured, has a lot of friends.”
Interviewed while he rifled through his car looking for a letter, the elder Dobbins said he hoped the letter and his son’s prayer book would help the younger Dobbins, known as Reggie, cope with the arrest.
“He is a very sensitive person and he doesn’t handle stress well and he is so stressed out,” Jack Dobbins, who planned to visit his son this weekend, said. “He was really upset when he heard about it.”
Reggie Dobbins and a 16-year-old Houlton resident, whose name was not released because of his age, were charged with murder Friday night. They are being held in Aroostook County Jail and will make their first court appearances Monday in Aroostook County Superior Court, state police said.
Police began investigating the case when two women discovered Suitter’s red Ford F-150 pickup truck stuck in a snowbank about half a mile from the victim’s Highland Avenue home on March 1. They contacted Houlton police and, recognizing Suitter’s pickup, the women went to Suitter’s trailer where they found his body.
State police have declined to release more details about the case but said that additional information may be included in court paperwork that will be filed Monday.
Jack Dobbins, who has eight daughters and four sons, said Suitter’s death was “horrible.”
“It is sad and horrible that it could happen in Houlton,” Jack Dobbins, who ran a television repair shop in town for many years, said. “There have been very few tragedies like that in the 81 years I have lived here.”
A house painter and handyman, Suitter was known around town for being somewhat reclusive but friendly, residents said. The murder suspect’s sister, Cricket Griffith, said Suitter also was a longtime friend of her mother.
Of his children, Jack Dobbins said “there are four of them for sure that knew him quite well and thought he was a real wonderful person.” Jack Dobbins and Griffith, 27, said they didn’t know of any dispute between Reggie Dobbins and Suitter and were unsure whether the two even knew each other.
The family also said they think police violated their rights when they searched the family home. They accused police of failing to display a search warrant before searching their home Wednesday night.
State police detectives told Jack Dobbins they could legally search the residence because Reggie Dobbins is on probation with conditions that permit searches, Jack Dobbins said. Griffiths said she didn’t think her brother is on probation but did have bail conditions she believed should have limited the search to his bedroom.
“We were treated like nothing we said made any difference,” Jack Dobbins said. “They were gentlemen enough, but I kept saying, ‘you’re not supposed to be in here.’ They forced their way in anyway, walked right in, six of them.”
Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, declined to comment on that allegation.
“Those are investigative details that I am not going to get into,” he said.
State police put the six Griffith and Dobbins family members in a local hotel until Friday. When they returned home, they found a search warrant, dated Friday, on a table inside, Jack Dobbins said. He displayed the warrant briefly but declined to allow it to be copied.
The police also impounded and have yet to return her dog, a German shepherd mix named Sparky, Griffith said.
Griffith said her brother, Reggie, is unemployed and volunteers at the local Unitarian Universalist church and mentored younger teens. His few scrapes with the law forced him to leave Houlton High School and put him on probation, but the charges resulted from largely defensive actions on his part, she said.
A Maine State Bureau of Identification criminal record check Saturday showed that Reggie Dobbins pleaded guilty to several counts of violating the conditions of his release, a misdemeanor, and paid a $100 fine and was jailed for 48 hours. The original charges and the violations of the conditions were not clear in the report.
Houlton police also said Reggie Dobbins was involved in an altercation in September after allegedly hitting a 20-year-old man with a baseball bat during a fight on Court Street. During the incident, the victim reportedly pulled out a knife and Reggie Dobbins hit him, causing him to drop his knife, police said.
The Rev. David Hutchinson, minister of Houlton Unitarian Church, said Reggie Dobbins probably served something like 40 hours of community service at the church in connection with criminal court requirements. Hutchinson said he didn’t know what crime put Reggie Dobbins into the program.
After fulfilling his court requirement, Reggie Dobbins continued to work at the church as a volunteer supervisor of another friend working of a court decree, Hutchinson said.
“Reggie knew his way around our building, and we trusted Reggie to do that work. We have known the family off and on for 10 to 15 years,” Hutchinson said. Whatever problem Dobbins had “didn’t show up in the workplace.”
“He was a model worker in that workplace,” Hutchinson added. “If you weren’t aware of his [criminal history] you wouldn’t know from dealing with him. He was a great guy to talk to. You would never know he had a problem.”
Reggie Dobbins’ arrest on a murder charge is shocking, Griffith said.
“He is such a loving uncle. He plays with my son all the time,” Griffith said. “He is very loving and nurturing. I could not see my brother like that.”
“I have watched him grow up as a kid,” Hutchinson said. “You just hate to see this sort of thing happen. It is complicated by all sort of factors. He is a great kid in my relation with him and as a minister, but I never had a chance to sit down and work with him and see what his problems were and how to better manage them.”