Stolen necklace: Evidence or heirloom?

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The necklace was a simple chain with two small crosses and it sold for $20. The killer hawked it after removing the chain from the woman he had strangled just minutes before. The murder of his girlfriend behind him, the killer wanted beer. A $20 windfall could buy a guy a case if he wasn’t too particular about the brand.

Cherie Andrews was strangled with a towel inside her apartment in January 2003. Frank Gallant, he of the murderous rage, the purloined necklace and the low-budget taste in brew, was sent to prison.

Anyone who followed this story knows the pertinent facts. Cherie was 43 when she was murdered. She left behind a daughter and a son.

Gallant was ordered to serve 38 years in prison where he spends his days watching television and playing cards. The rest of the story plays out quietly, in a fashion that does not draw the attention of news reporters.

Not long ago, Gallant asked the court for his clothes back. Specifically, he wanted the killer duds he was wearing the night he straddled his girlfriend and strangled her. The request was granted. State Police plucked the dingy clothes from an evidence locker and delivered them to the convicted murderer.

Meanwhile, back in the world of freedom, Cherie’s only daughter has had no such luck reclaiming her mother’s necklace. The gold chain with the crosses remains bagged and labeled, presumably in a dark corner of an evidence room.

For police, it was a small piece of evidence, just another physical item to assign a number and flaunt before the jury. For Karrie Mitchell, the necklace is something shining and cherished, a dangling reminder of her mother before Gallant took her down. But the item might be on the moon, so entangled is it in the nebulous red tape of a police investigation.

“I am so outraged about this thing,” Mitchell said. “I feel as though a murderer has more rights than a person like myself who has never been in trouble with the law.”

Unbending grief aside, Mitchell had no problem making the arrangements to have her mother’s body flown home after the murder. There was no trouble getting the coffin, the headstone and the burial plot. Check, check and check.

The return of her mother’s jewelry represents final business in the whole, sordid affair. But that sense of finality is slow to come.

“I feel as though I have a better chance of becoming president than getting that necklace back.”

Gallant was able to order up his old clothes as simply as a hotel guest ordering up room service. Mitchell, conversely, has been forced to track down a detective and beg for her mother’s necklace. The detective, in turn, had to check with prosecutors who then needed to check with their superiors.

And so on and so forth through the nebula. It’s been more than three years since the life of Cherie Andrews was snuffed out. Three years of mourning and waiting for the dead woman’s daughter.

You can sympathize with the cop side of things a bit. They made the arrest and got the conviction. But now, will there be an appeal of the murder conviction? Should the necklace be secured and guarded around the clock in case its value as evidence is needed again?

As murder cases go, the trial of Frank Gallant was a relative slam-dunk. Whether he killed Cherie Andrews was never in question. The only legal straw the man had to clutch was whether the crime should be labeled murder or manslaughter.

With that in mind, the necklace does not mean so much on the legal front. It remains in a moldering evidence box mainly because someone needs to get up, sign a document or two and pluck it out. Someone needs to recognize that this simple piece of jewelry is as important to Karrie Mitchell as the killer duds were to Frank Gallant.

Mitchell does not want to wear the necklace. Who wants to explain to the curious that a piece of jewelry was yanked off a dead woman’s neck and then cashed in for beer?

Instead, she wants to dole out this grand symbol piecemeal. A cross for herself, a cross for Andrews’ sister, the chain for 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. This belonged to my daughter, sister, mother.”

Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter.

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