The long-awaited trial in the 1980 slaying of an East Millinocket teenager is set to begin Monday.
Opening statements at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor are expected to be followed by a visit to the crime scene.
Fournier, who goes by his middle name, has been a person of interest in
the case since the girl’s body was discovered behind the Schenck High School athletic fields in East Millinocket on the morning of Aug. 10, 1980, according to court documents. But Fournier was not arrested until March 2016 after being interviewed by police 27 times over the course of the 35-year investigation.
Bangor defense attorney Jeffrey Silverstein said he will use his time during the judge-only trial to raises questions about why Fournier was charged after so long a time.
According to Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese, “Maine State Police had been investigating Fournier for years and years and years. New detectives and new prosecutors looked at the case against the backdrop of new evidence, and a decision was made to charge him.”
Marchese declined to specify the new evidence.
Silverstein said the only new evidence he has seen fails to incriminate Fournier: “They tested some hairs last year. They got DNA profiles from them, but they don’t match the DNA profile of my client.”
The longtime criminal defense attorney argues that the only thing of significance that has changed is who heads the criminal division of the Attorney General’s Office. Silverstein theorizes that Marchese’s predecessor, William Stokes, did not believe there was enough evidence to charge Fournier.
Stokes, now 67, became a Superior Court justice in July 2014, and Marchese was tapped by Attorney General Janet Mills to replace him. Fournier was charged about 18 months later.
Stokes declined this week to comment on why he never charged anyone with McLain’s death. Less than a year before he went on the bench, Stokes refused to share the McLain case file with the reality TV show “Cold Justice,” saying that doing so would violate state law and jeopardize the investigation.
All the former or current McLain case investigators contacted for this article declined to be interviewed about the upcoming trial.
But in 2005, interviewed for a story about the 25th anniversary of McLain’s death, former Maine State Police Detective David Preble said he never had enough evidence to charge anyone.
“Realistically, I cannot go to sleep at night saying, ‘This is definitely the guy,’” Preble said.
McLain, who was a high school athlete, last was seen the night of Aug. 8, 1980, at about 7:45 p.m. while jogging in East Millinocket. Later that night or early the next morning, Fournier stole a fuel truck from Federico’s garage in East Millinocket and was in a serious crash in Medway about 3 a.m. Aug. 9, 1980, according to the affidavit. As a result of the accident Fournier was deemed disabled and received Social Security benefits.
While Fournier was in a coma at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, McLain’s partially clad body was found in a clearing near power lines behind the East Millinocket high school, not far from the soccer fields where she had played fullback for the Wolverines. McLain died of blunt force trauma to the head, according to the medical examiner.
Superior Court Justice Ann Murray, who will preside over Fournier’s trial, found in July 2016 that there was probable cause to charge Fournier with murder. She called the evidence against him “solid but not overwhelming.”
The evidence includes a confession, according to his defense attorney.
“He confessed to his parents, his pastor and the police once in 1981. Every other time they’ve interviewed him, he’s denied killing her,” Silverstein said.
Silverstein said Fournier’s statements were inconsistent because he cannot remember the night McLain died and he was in a serious truck accident. Silverstein intends to call a neuropsychologist to testify that Fournier’s faulty memory is consistent with a traumatic brain injury.
“It’s common for people not to remember events before and after a trauma,” Silverstein said. “It is human nature for people to want to fill in those gaps. It is common for people to draw upon information gained from various sources and to adopt what they’ve been told by others and confuse that with their own memories.”
The prosecution is expected to introduce a statement in which Fournier allegedly knew details about the crime scene that had not been made public. Fournier allegedly described being drunk and tripping over McLain’s body. He told police that McLain’s hair was tied back with a ribbon, that her hands were tied behind her back and that she was lying on her stomach.
Although Fournier apparently has always been a suspect in McLain’s slaying, that fact was not made public until 2009. U.S. District Judge John Woodcock identified Fournier as “a person of interest” in McLain’s homicide when sentencing him to 6½ years in federal prison for possession of child pornography. Fournier was released on Jan. 6, 2015.
Since being arrested on the murder charge on March 4, 2016, Fournier has been held at Penobscot County Jail because he has been unable to post $300,000 cash bail.
If convicted of murder, Fournier faces between 25 years and life in prison.
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