A Washington County man charged with stabbing his father to death on Thursday was ordered held without bail at his first court appearance on Friday afternoon.

Darren Laney Jr., 36, faces one count of murder after allegedly killing his father, Darren Laney Sr., Thursday in Big Lake Township, near the town of Princeton.

Darren Laney Jr. of Big Lake Township, Maine. Credit: Courtesy of Washington County Jail

Laney appeared before Justice Mallonee via video conference from the Washington County Jail in Machias. Details about the alleged stabbing were not shared during the hearing, and the court declined to publicly release the affidavit, which is a document that likely describes the events surrounding the elder Laney’s death.

During the brief hearing, Laney Jr. told Mallonee he understood the charges against him and that he wanted Bangor lawyer Jeffrey Silverstein to be appointed as his defense attorney. Another hearing for Laney was not scheduled, but Silverstein told the judge he might at some point request a bail hearing for his client.

During the hearing, Laney wore a white t-shirt that read “stop snitching on the woo,” a reference to slain Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke.

The death of Laney Sr., who was 62 years old, is the fifth homicide in Washington County in as many months. Washington County makes up a little more than 2 percent of Maine’s statewide population, according to the 2020 Census, but represents eight of the 42 pending homicide cases, or 19 percent, in the state’s court system.

Chris Gardner, chairman of the Washington County Commission, said he’s worked at least part-time as a police officer in the county for 26 years, and has never seen anything like the recent spate of killings in the area.

“We’re done pretending this is okay,” Gardner said, adding that the county needs more help from the state to police the rural county and to prosecute cases.

“There has not been enough investment in law enforcement,” Gardner said. “Every agency is understaffed. I’m tired of this. We’re fighting a losing battle.”

Other people who have been killed in Washington County since early November include Brandin Guerrero, Jason Aubuchon, Eva Cox and Paula Johnson.

Seven people have been charged with murder in connection with those deaths, including five people accused of killing Guerrero, an alleged drug dealer from New York, in Machias on Nov. 4. So far no one has been charged with killing Johnson, 53, who was found dead on Feb. 9 at a home on Leighton Point Road in Pembroke.

In a little more than two years, nine people in total have been killed under suspicious circumstances in Washington County. Police have attributed much of the violence to a sharp increase in drug trafficking in the county, though several shootings and killings in recent years have not been linked to the illicit drug trade.

On Feb. 3, 2020, Northfield resident Thomas Bonfanti allegedly shot four people, killing three of them, at three homes in Machias and Jonesboro before turning himself in at the American Legion Hall in Machias. Police have not publicly said why Bonfanti, who is expected to go on trial in Belfast in May, went on the alleged shooting spree.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....