SKOWHEGAN (THE MORNING SENTINEL) — Jeffrey LaGasse told police in 2007 he was home with his girlfriend the night Louise Brochu was bludgeoned to death in New Portland.
He later told investigators he was in Bangor that night, digging up loot in a cemetery from an old robbery. Then he changed his story again, to say he was actually was with a woman named “Je t’aime,” according to court documents.
LaGasse is accused of murder in the death of Brochu, his former employer at a New Portland flooring business.
Defense lawyers for LaGasse were in Superior Court on Wednesday seeking to have those statements and others thrown out, on the grounds that police obtained the information illegally.
Lead defense attorney Jason Jabar, of Waterville, told Justice John Nivison that his client was, by definition, in police custody when he was interviewed that summer, and police failed to read him his Miranda rights.
Any statements made by LaGasse under those circumstances should not be used against him at trial, Jabar argued.
Jabar said LaGasse was in police custody during interviews with detectives, even though investigators told him he was not under arrest and was free to go. Deputy Attorney General William Stokes disagreed, saying LaGasse knew he was not in custody when he spoke to police.
“You know it when you’re arrested, certainly,” Stokes said.
Nivison did not rule Wednesday on the matter, taking arguments under advisement. The murder trial is scheduled to begin in June.
The body of 50-year-old Louise Brochu was discovered June 8, 2007 under a pile of roofing metal in the mill yard at her business, New Portland Wood Flooring, on Route 27. Brochu ran the flooring business next to her home and LaGasse is a former employee.
Court records indicate Brochu died of multiple, blunt-force head trauma, as well as multiple, blunt-force torso and extremity injuries, including cerebral hemorrhaging.
LaGasse, who lived on the second floor of the old Wire Bridge Diner in New Portland, near Brochu’s home and business, was the one who reported to police that Brochu was missing.
He was indicted this year on a single count of murder. He has entered a not-guilty plea.
LaGasse, 31, is being held without bail at the Somerset County Jail in East Madison. So far, defense attorneys have not called for a bail review.
Stokes said Wednesday that interviews between LaGasse and state police detectives on June 11, June 20 and on Aug. 3, 2007, were at first low-key and non-confrontational. LaGasse gave police a written statement on June 11, stating that he was home the night of June 7 and went to bed at about 9 p.m.
During a brief telephone interview with a detective June 15, that story did not change.
Then on June 20, LaGasse met with detectives and agreed to do a “walk-through” of the Brochu property, where there were foot tracks and tire marks police wanted to identify. The walk-through and interview with LaGasse were video-recorded.
Meanwhile at LaGasse’s apartment less than a mile away, his girlfriend was being interviewed by police who had secured a search warrant for the residence and the woman’s vehicle, which she shared with LaGasse.
That’s when the stories began to change, Stokes said, and the tone of the police interview also began to change. Even so, Stokes said, LaGasse knew he was not under arrest and was not being pressured to cooperate with the investigation.
Jabar countered, telling the court Wednesday that during the June 11 interview with police and the June 20 visit to the Brochu property, it was clear that LaGasse felt he was in police custody and that he had not been read his Miranda rights. Anything LaGasse said to police could not be used as evidence, he said.
Jabar said LaGasse, a young man who was on probation and in the presence of armed police detectives, felt that he was in custody and, despite what police told him, unable to leave. Police later took LaGasse to the probation office in Farmington to continue the interviews while the apartment was being searched, reinforcing the feeling of being in custody, Jabar said.
LaGasse who was soaking wet from the walking visit of the wood mill June 20, asked if he could change his clothing and take a shower, but was not allowed to do so, Jabar said. He said case law in Maine sets a 10-point precedent and argued that LaGasse’s statements were the result of custodial interrogation.
Some of the interviews took place inside a police car, Jabar said, which was not a place LaGasse felt comfortable.
“Any person in a similar situation would most reasonably believe that they were, in fact, not free to leave,” Jabar said in court documents.
Stokes used the same 10-point precedent to make his own point.
“Whenever he asked if he was in custody, he was told that he was not, a fact that has to militate in favor of a finding of non-custody,” the prosecution writes on the motion to suppress. “The defendant was not subjected to any physical restraint at all, another fact supportive of the conclusion that this interview was non-custodial.”
Jury selection in the case has been set for June 8 — three years to the date of Brochu’s body being found.