DNA links man to Fayette killing

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AUGUSTA – DNA obtained from the fingernail clippings of a Fayette woman stabbed to death more than two decades ago led to charges against a former South Portland man, according to a forensic DNA analyst from the state’s crime lab.

Catherine Macmillan from the Maine State Police Crime Laboratory testified Thursday in Kennebec County Superior Court that she linked DNA from fingernail clippings removed during Judith Flagg’s autopsy to Thomas Mitchell Jr.

Mitchell, 49, was due to be released from prison Jan. 22 after serving 15 years of a 20-year sentence for rape, kidnapping and attempted murder, followed by three years probation, according to the Maine Department of Corrections.

But Justice Nancy Mills ordered him held without bail Thursday after finding probable cause to support the murder charge in the Flagg case brought by a Kennebec County grand jury on Sept. 8, 2006.

Flagg was 23 when she was stabbed several times in the chest and head on Jan. 6, 1983, at her home on Watson Heights Road and her 1-year-old son was by her side when her body was found, police said. A phone was clutched in one of her hands when her body was discovered by her husband, Theodore.

The Flaggs were living in a home purchased from the estate of Mitchell’s late father, and Mitchell was a suspect in Flagg’s killing. But there was not enough evidence at the time to bring charges, prosecutors said.

During Thursday’s hearing, defense lawyer James Strong questioned whether the evidence was contaminated or had deteriorated over the years.

“DNA samples degrade, yes,” Macmillan said, “but they don’t change.”

DNA was not the only evidence linking Mitchell to the crime scene.

A former South Portland police detective recognized Mitchell’s car heading north early on the day of the killing, and a mail carrier reported that she was nearly run off the road by a car similar to Mitchell’s while delivering mail on the Flaggs’ road.

Thomas Roche of Gorham, the retired South Portland detective, helped execute a search warrant to seize Mitchell’s shoes in 1984.

Alicia Wilcox, a forensic chemist with the crime lab, said she found that Mitchell’s left loafer matched the tread pattern, mold and size of a casting police took of a footprint in the snow the morning after Flagg was found.

Several family members, including Theodore Flagg, attended Thursday’s hearing. David Dion, Judith Flagg’s brother, said the family is grateful to state police detectives who kept them informed over the years and never gave up on the case.

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