A murder case that went unsolved for nearly four decades came to a conclusion Thursday in a Bangor courtroom.
A judge found Phillip Scott Fournier guilty of the 1980 death of Joyce McLain of East Millinocket. McLain was just 16-years old when she went jogging near her high school one August evening and never returned. In delivering her verdict after the jury-waived trial, Superior Court Justice Ann Murray rejected defense arguments suggesting Fournier had sustained a brain injury that had damaged his recollection of the killing.
For Pamela McLain, the mother of the murdered teenager, Fournier's conviction brings an end to what she says has been a long search for justice.
“It took 37 and a half years and you'll never see a happier mother than this one is right here, right now, today,” McLain said.
According to court testimony, Fournier was interested in getting to know Joyce McLain when he was 19 and hanging around the school athletic yards where Mclain was known to go jogging. She was jogging Aug. 8, 1980 when she disappeared. Her partially clothed body was discovered two days later near the school. She'd been struck in the head with a blunt object, her hands tied behind her back. Fournier attracted police attention when he stole a truck the very next day and crashed into a building, sustaining a brain injury. He later admitted that he had intended to kill himself.
But police struggled to locate any physical evidence tying Fournier to the crime. And the case lingered for years until 2009 when U.S. District Judge John Woodcock identified Fournier as “a person of interest” in McLain’s death while sentencing him for possession of child pornography. A year after being released for this offense, Fournier was arrested on the murder charge. His conviction, while bringing closure in the case, is complicated in a small town.
“It's not gonna bring her back. It's not gonna make us happier 'cause he's in jail,” said Joyce McLain’s uncle, Daniel Hale.
“There are really no words you can say other than, I'm not glad he's going to jail,” says Hale. “I feel bad for his family. His mother? I mean, my God.”
During the trial, Justice Ann Murray considered several confessions Fournier made over the years: to a clergyman, his mother and even a supervisor for a security job he held in 1989 at Husson University. The defense argued that Fournier's brain injury made his memory unreliable. But Justice Murray rejected that argument. She pointed out that Fournier was still able to recall other events with great clarity. In addition, Fournier had knowledge of certain closely-shielded details of the crime, which Justice Murray said that left no doubt about his involvement in the murder.
“His recitation that Joyce had an injury to the left side of her face, yet the left side of her face was not visible when she was found, and Mr. Fournier's attempt to kill himself in the oil truck within hours of Joyce McLain's death causes the court to find that the state has proven the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Murray said.
"We are ecstatic with the verdict the court rendered today, it has been a long time in coming and we're elated with the verdict," said Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea, who co-prosecuted the case.
Jeffrey Silverstein, Fournier's attorney, argued during the trial that there was a significant absence of physical evidence in the state's case as well as some puzzling conflicting evidence suggesting that others could have been responsible for McLain's murder.
“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. "It seemed as if the judge's mind was certainly made up and convinced whether that was the case. 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.”
Silverstein said no decision has been made about a possible appeal of Murray's verdict. Meanwhile, state prosecutors say they are still weighing sentencing recommendations for Fournier who is now 57 and who could be imprisoned from 25 years to life.