Michael Boucher

On Monday, Vicki Dill and members of her family will make the trek from Kennebec County to the Knox County courthouse to testify to the state’s Parole Board that Michael M. Boucher Sr. should remain in prison for the rest of his life for killing 18-year-old Debra Dill in 1973.

If they are successful, it will be an odd victory.

Boucher, now 68, is one of only a few remaining inmates in Maine who is eligible to seek parole.

If he cannot gain early release now, Boucher will be able to seek it again if he chooses. If he does, the Dill family will be back.

“He was sentenced to life in prison,” Vicki Dill said. “He’s not dead yet.”

 

A LOSS EVERY FIVE YEARS

For the Dill family, the trip has taken on a kind of routine, one that’s been repeated fairly regularly since 2001. This will be the fifth time.

They are notified that Boucher — they never refer to him by name — is seeking parole weeks ahead of the hearing, and that starts the work and the emotional roller coaster. They collect signatures for a petition that the advocacy group Parents of Murdered Children helped draft, and they ask for letters of support from elected officials. They revisit their memories, and they make sure they have Debbie’s photo ready to take with them.

“The sad part of it is that I’ve lost Debbie, and I am losing her every five years again,” Vicki Dill said. “We’re good for about three or four years. I have it in my mind and I know it’s coming up.

“I think, can I make this easier on my mom, for her to hear the news and know that it’s coming and prepare for it coming?” she added. “There is no easier way to tell her this.”

In 1973, there was apparently no easy for way for Robert and Janice Dill to tell their four daughters and son at home that their oldest sister had been strangled and beaten brutally with a hammer and her body left in the woods off Whippoorwill Road in Litchfield, about a quarter-mile from Route 126. So after the police came to make the notification, and they identified their daughter’s body, they told their children only that she had been killed in a car accident.

Other people knew, but they didn’t talk about it with the family.

Cindy DiRusso, one of Dill’s older sisters, has a clear memory of the aftermath of the announcement of her sister’s death.

“There was a store down the road,” DiRusso said last week from her home in Massachusetts. “I remember the next day going to get doughnuts in the store. We’re a large family. We baby-sat for kids. We were well known.

“When I walked in, all the adults shut up. And there was a container on the counter to help the Dill family,” she added. “I had no idea what that was for.”

As she left the store, DiRusso said, conversation resumed.

Both Dill and DiRusso said no one talked about Debbie after her death, either in the family home in West Gardiner or outside of it. Her photo came down from the wall and friends kept their distance. No one contradicted the notion that Debbie had died in a car crash.

Dill said she discovered the truth three years later when she came across a scrapbook of news clippings and photos her mother had tucked away in a drawer, and she was stunned. As an adult, she said she can appreciate that her parents were trying to protect their children; but at that time, she was angry because they had lied.

Dill said her mother still has the scrapbook and continues to add to it whenever something new comes up, such as the parole hearings.

Both women say their lives changed after the death of their sister.

“We used to hop in the big old station wagon and go for a ride as a family,” DiRusso said.

That stopped after Debbie was killed.

Their parents kept them close to home, and if their mother couldn’t see them in the yard, she’d yell until they came back in sight of the house. It changed the way they were allowed to date or hang out with friends. Coming home 15 minutes late from a date could mean being grounded for two weeks.

DiRusso moved to Massachusetts when she was 20, and she still lives there. She doesn’t know if she might have made a different decision if Debbie had lived.

“She was going to get married,” DiRusso said.

If Debbie had married and had children, would that have influenced her to stay? She doesn’t know. Did she move there out of fear of not knowing who had killed her sister or why? She doesn’t know that, either.

Dill said she learned to be vigilant and self-reliant, and her sister’s murder influenced her decision to be a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical tecnician.

As Dill and her brother and sisters grew up and followed their own paths, they still had no idea who had killed their sister or why.

That changed in 1988.

Michael Boucher, right, is escorted by Kennebec County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Testerman on July 9, 1991. Kennebec Journal file photo

That year, Boucher was indicted by a Kennebec County grand jury on a charge of murder. He had been in prison in Connecticut, serving a sentence for assault on a woman there, when his wife reported his threat to do to her what he had done to “the Dill girl.” When police searched his property, they found items that had belonged to Debra Dill.

Police say Boucher was a 22-year-old cook in Lewiston when he encountered Dill, who had gone to the Lewiston Fair on Sept. 16, 1973. They say Boucher followed her as she drove toward home, bumping her car while they drove. In Litchfield, Dill crashed her car on a camp road, and he caught up with her.

Testimony at trial described the details of Dill’s death, that she was strangled by hand and suffered a “brutal beating.” Marks on her skull were consistent with hammer blows.

Boucher was convicted at trial in 1991; the jurors deliberated for two hours.

 

PREPARING THEIR CASE

Dill said members of her family go to the  parole hearings because they want to and they will continue to attend until Boucher dies or opts not to seek parole.

“We could write letters,” she said. “We choose to go to present to (the Parole Board). Our feeling and thought is writing black letters on white paper doesn’t always mean a lot.

“It’s when they see you, hear you, feel your emotion, see your emotion, hear your voice and put a picture and a person to the name Debbie Dill. Her picture goes to every parole board,” Dill added. “We’re not here for the inmate. We’re here for her. The Parole Board needs to understand they need to do the right thing for her.”

The five members of the Parole Board — Richard Harburger, Charles Love, Jack Richards, Robert Schwartz and Stephanie Anderson — are appointed by the Maine governor, and they serve at his or her pleasure.

Harburger, the board chairman and a retired federal parole officer, said Maine had an indeterminate sentencing system until lawmakers changed the laws in 1976.

“If you were convicted of robbery, you would be sentenced to not less than five years but not more than 15 years, for example,” Harburger said.

Parole was a frequently used option.

Now, with truth in sentencing laws, those convicted of crimes and their victims know how long they will serve in prison.

Because Boucher killed Dill in 1973, he was sentenced under the laws of the time, which means the term is life with the possibility of parole.

“There will be a time when the Parole Board has no one (sentenced in Maine) to supervise,” Harburger said. “All the people will be dead.”

Currently, the state has three potential parolees who are incarcerated, he said.

One is Boucher, who is in the Maine State Prison in Warren.

Steven R. Clark, 64, was sentenced to life in prison in 1975 in the death of Jared D. Wright, who was 23 months old at the time of his death.

Gaylon L. Wardwell, 84, was sentenced to life in prison in 1962 for strangling his pregnant wife, Anita, and setting fire to their Woodland home. The Wardwells’ 15-month-old son, Joseph, died in the fire; two other children were rescued by Wardwell.

Harburger said the board’s work extends beyond those three. It also supervises Maine residents who are on parole from other states.

This year Dill family members will meet with the Parole Board on Monday morning at the Knox County courthouse to give their public testimony.

“It’s a neutral place,” Harburger said. “There’s a certain amount of security and screening when people go to a state prison. This will be more comfortable for the family. The last time, it wasn’t very workable.”

Dill said her mother uses a walker to stand, and getting her through the prison security for the last hearing was difficult because she couldn’t use her walker to get through screening and had to be helped through by hand.

The parole hearing will take place later in the day at the Maine State Prison. The board will listen to the evidence on both sides, Harburger said, deliberate in executive session and give its judgment, which is appealable to Superior Court.

Boucher has challenged a Parole Board decision in the past.

Through a postconviction process, Boucher asked Justice Robert Mullen to order him paroled or to order a new hearing before a different parole panel. Boucher said he was not told he could have the proceeding recorded or have a spokesperson represent him, that a board member inappropriately asked him whether he would waive his right to future parole hearings to spare grief for Dill’s family, and that he’s been treated differently from others seeking parole.

Mullen denied the request in 2016 and said the Parole Board had “more than sufficient evidence” to support the decision.

And while Boucher has written to the Dill family apologizing for the murder and asking for forgiveness, family members have dismissed it. Only DiRusso has read it, and she said she was not convinced of his sincerity.

The Dill family is never certain of the outcome of the hearings.

“I’m not going to bury my head in sand and pretend that if he gets out, he’ll leave us alone,” Dill said. “I’m not that naive and dumb about that.”

If Boucher is released, Dill said she has a safety plan for herself and for her mother, but she would prefer not to use it.

“My mother has suffered enough, losing her first-born to such a heinous murder,” Dill said. “It’s enough. She’s gone through enough.”

 

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