Not just evidence to family of victim

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LEWISTON – Years ago, someone broke into Peggy Rotundo’s home and stole a necklace belonging to her mother. The state senator never forgot the feeling of loss and violation that came with the theft of the heirloom.

This week, Rotundo stepped up to help the family of a slain woman get a necklace back after the item sat for years in a police evidence room.

In January 2003, Cherie Andrews was strangled inside her Park Street apartment. Police said the killer removed Andrews’ necklace – a gold chain with two crosses – and sold it for $20 to pay for beer.

Less than a year after the slaying, 54-year-old Frank Gallant was convicted of murder. The case wrapped up, the necklace remained in police custody, along with other evidence packed into boxes.

Since the conviction, Andrews’ daughter has been trying to get the necklace back. Karrie Mitchell said she wanted to keep a cross for herself, give the other to an aunt, and deliver the chain to the dead woman’s mother.

“When someone asked where we had obtained such a beautiful necklace, we could say: This was a part of a very strong-willed woman,” Mitchell said. “This belonged to my daughter, sister, mother.”

Before this week, her attempts to reclaim the necklace led to frustration. When Rotundo read about Mitchell’s plight Wednesday in the Sun Journal, she started making calls.

“I just keep thinking about that family’s grief,” Rotundo said. “I understand how important that kind of thing can be.”

Rotundo called Maine Public Safety Commissioner Michael Cantera. The commissioner got hold of police detectives and officials from the Attorney General’s Office. More calls were made. More inquiries moved up and down the ranks.

By the end of the day Thursday, the return of the necklace was all but a done deal.

“They are photographing the necklace and making the arrangements to send it back,” Rotundo said. “It should be back in the hands of the family by early next week.”

Mitchell said Thursday night that she was relieved to learn the necklace will be back with her soon. She expressed gratitude to the police, to Rotundo, to a victim’s advocate and to others who began the process of releasing the necklace as evidence.

She said she will likely travel from New York to Maine to pick up the necklace personally.

“I don’t want to lose the last thing that is left of my mother,” Mitchell said. “I appreciate the thoughts and concerns. It means a lot to me.”

According to Maine Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland, unforeseeable circumstances delayed the return of the necklace after Mitchell asked about it several weeks ago. The state police detective assigned to begin the process was unexpectedly called away for a family emergency, McCausland said.

Rotundo said it was the family emergency and no lack of sympathy that caused the delay. She commended Cantera and other police officials for taking swift action once the matter was brought to their attention.

“I’m just thrilled that the family will be getting the necklace back,” Rotundo said. “I hope it helps them in some small way.”

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