FARMINGTON — Advances in DNA technology have helped solve several murders in Maine over the past 20 years.

Without the new profiling technology, the cases would not have been solved, says
Maine Deputy Attorney General William Stokes.

On Tuesday, a Franklin County Superior Court jury found Thomas H. Mitchell Jr. guilty of killing Judith Flagg, 23, in Fayette in 1983. Stokes presented DNA evidence collected from the murder scene, from Flagg’s fingernails and body and from her son’s clothing that matched Mitchell’s DNA profile.

The guilty verdict came more than 26 years after the fatal stabbing. Testimony at the trial showed the DNA evidence was preserved.

In the late 1980s, the federal government set the groundwork for a system of national, state and local DNA databases for storage and exchange of DNA profiles. This system, the Combined DNA Index System, maintains DNA profiles in a set of databases that are available to law-enforcement agencies across the country, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Web site.

There are 8,853 profiles of Maine offenders in the federal database, which lists 1,542 forensic samples. Sixty-one investigations have been aided with that information, according to the Justice Department Web site. From 2004 to 2008 the state received more than $724,000 in federal funding to help with these DNA cases. One of the first was the murder of Lisa Garland in 1990, Stokes said.

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Garland disappeared on Oct. 26, 1990, after work, according to Maine Supreme Judicial Court online documents. Her body was found by an equipment operator on Nov. 30, lying facedown in a gravel pit in Alton. 

An autopsy revealed that Garland had been raped and struck with a blunt instrument. She died of a skull fracture. During the autopsy, the medical examiner gathered evidence that included carpet fibers from Garland’s socks and a blood sample, and conducted tests to obtain body fluid and DNA.

There were extensive hearings, Stokes said, in the mid 1990s about the admissibility of DNA evidence against Garland’s accused murderer, David Fleming.

He was indicted on March 31, 1993, on the murder charge, according to court documents. He filed a motion seeking to prevent the admissibility of DNA, but the evidence was allowed. A jury found him guilty of Garland’s murder.

Fleming appealed that verdict in 1997, claiming the admission of DNA and the “product rule” — a mathematical formula used to extrapolate the likelihood of a random DNA match — had not been accepted in the scientific community to meet the admissibility requirements of state evidence law.

He also argued that the court erred by admitting testimony about prior DNA testing of his blood.
The court found no error and affirmed the guilty conviction.

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Since then, several unsolved murder cases have been resolved, Stokes said.

Albert Cochran was indicted on a murder charge in 1998, accused of killing Janet Baxter on Nov. 23, 1976.
Baxter had been last seen in Waterville where she worked. Her body was
found in the trunk of a car in Norridgewock. She had been sexually
assaulted and shot in the head, according to court documents.

The state used DNA evidence that had been collected at the time, and Cochran was found guilty, Stokes said.

Foster Bates was found guilty in 2002 of killing Tammy Dickson on Feb. 17, 1994. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted.

In 2007, DNA evidence was used to convict Michael Hutchinson, 32, of Bridgton, of Crystal Perry’s murder in 1994 at her Route 93 home in Bridgton. Perry was stabbed more than 50 times.

Unless there had been confessions in those cases, Stokes said, they wouldn’t have been resolved without DNA technology.

Twenty to 25 homicides occur, on average, every year in Maine. The clearance rate is above 90 percent, but at least 72 homicide cases that occurred over the past 40 years remain open, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety Web site.

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