Slayings state’s top stories of 2006

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PORTLAND (AP) – The Easter Sunday murders of two convicted sex offenders by a young vigilante from Canada who took his life hours later as police closed in on him was voted the top Maine news story of 2006.

Stephen Marshall, a 20-year-old dishwasher at a Nova Scotia restaurant, selected his victims from the state’s online sex offender registry, driving his father’s truck to their homes in Milo and Corinth and shooting them to death.

The top stories were selected in a year-end poll of Associated Press member newspapers, broadcasters and staff in Maine.

The runner-up in the balloting was another shocking multiple slaying centered around a holiday, the Labor Day weekend killings of three women at the Black Bear Bed & Breakfast in Newry and a man in the woods of nearby Upton. Christian Nielsen, a 31-year-old cook, faces four counts of murder in the shootings of the Black Bear’s owner, her daughter, her daughter’s friend and a man who was staying at the inn. As Nielsen awaits trial, the motive for the killing spree remained a mystery.

Maine’s top political battle was the referendum on limiting state and local spending in which voters rejected the proposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a story voted No. 3. But the outcome was much closer than that of the failed property tax cap in 2004, leading many to suggest that tax relief will be near the top of the Legislature’s agenda.

Ranked fourth in the poll was the Mother’s Day floods that ravaged York County, driving hundreds from their homes and causing millions of dollars in damage to homes, roads and bridges. Some towns were inundated by more than a foot of rain, with the downtown streets of York Beach turned into rivers as businesses were making final preparations for the summer tourist season.

A family dispute landed in the tabloids when a North Yarmouth couple was accused of abducting their pregnant 19-year-old daughter in an attempt to drive her to New York and force her to have an abortion. The trip ended when the daughter slipped away and called police in New Hampshire. The story was voted No. 5.

In sixth place was the shutdown of the Georgia-Pacific Corp. pulp and paper mill in Old Town, an economic blow that included the loss of more than 400 mill jobs. Months later, the idle mill was sold to an investor group that planned to diversify operations and eventually provide even more jobs than before.

A plane crash in June that killed three Lewiston High School students and the pilot was ranked seventh. The students were taking part in an Air Force Junior ROTC program when the Cessna 172 slammed into a mountainside in Newry.

The No. 8 story was the conviction of a former Kittery Town Council chairman accused by federal prosecutors of running a brothel and conspiring to launder millions of dollars in profits. Former lawyer Gary Reiner was sentenced to five years in prison.

There was a tie for ninth place between the November gubernatorial election and the pig’s head incident in a Lewiston mosque.

See page A1 for top local stories of 2006.

Gov. John Baldacci was re-elected with nearly 40 percent of the vote in a five-way race. U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and U.S. Reps. Tom Andrews and Michael Michaud were also returned to office in top-of-the-ticket races that produced no surprises.

A Lewiston man accused of rolling the pig’s head into the mosque during evening prayers maintained it was simply a joke, but others were not amused. A judge granted the state’s request for a preliminary injunction against Brent Matthews, 33, who also faces a criminal charge.

The balloting took place before six people, including four recent high school graduates from Lewiston and Auburn, were killed in a collision on icy Route 122 the day before Christmas. Investigators have not yet released their conclusions.

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