It took 18 years for justice to catch up to Michael Boucher Sr., and if his conscience bothered him in that time, he didn’t show it.

In fact, between the time he killed Debra Dill of West Gardiner in 1973 and when he was finally convicted of her murder in 1991, Boucher assaulted at least two other women while compiling a lengthy criminal record. And when he was finally brought before the court, he refused responsibility and fought the charges.

Boucher’s conscience didn’t bother him much either in the first 15 years of his life sentence. By his own admission, Boucher continued to blame his actions on drugs and alcohol, and he was angry when the state refused his parole in 2006, after he had served just 15 years for brutally beating and strangling the 18-year-old Dill.

But sometime after that 2006 hearing in front of the Maine State Parole Board, Boucher wrote a letter of apology to Dill’s family. Substance abuse counseling, anger management classes, and a new marriage have changed him, Boucher told the parole board in 2011. Impressed, board members praised Boucher, told him to begin planning for life outside of prison, and moved up his next hearing, from five years out to three.

That hearing is scheduled for May, 40 years and nine months after Dill’s murder and 22 years after Boucher’s conviction. Because of the praise from the parole board and the expediated hearing schedule, Dill’s family is worried he’ll get out. Because the Department of Corrections hasn’t always been responsive and accurate in keeping Dill’s family aware of Boucher’s status, the family isn’t convinced the state is keeping the victim in mind.

Perhaps the board isn’t leaning toward releasing Boucher any time soon. Perhaps the expediated hearing schedule is a reward unto itself, a way for the board to push Boucher in the right direction, rather than a sign that parole is near.

But maybe not.

If they are contemplating releasing Boucher, board members have to consider many factors: Boucher’s danger to the community, the level of his commitment to reform and treatment during incarceration, the cost to the state of keeping him in prison, to name a few.

But they also need to consider that Boucher remained free for 18 years after leaving Dill’s body in the woods in Litchfield. For all that time, Dill’s family, including her sister Vicki, who was just 10 at the time of her sister’s murder, mourned the death without answers.

The gut-wrenching sense of loss that Boucher caused did not fade through those 18 years. Nor did it fade through Boucher’s arrest and conviction, nor through the 22 years since he went to prison. It did not fade after Boucher’s sent his letter, or because he attended counseling.

The board needs to consider, above all else, that the heartache will never fade.