WARREN — Vicki Dill gently placed the framed photo of her sister on the table and looked at the men and women in front of her, the parole board that over the next few hours would make the decision that would set the course of her family’s life. The photo was one of the last taken of 18-year-old Debra Dill in 1973 before she was murdered by Michael Boucher.

“This is why we’re here today,” Dill told the four members of the Maine Parole Board at the opening of Thursday’s hearing to determine if the 63-year-old Boucher should be set free. “This is my sister Debbie. She definitely needs to be here.”

A few hours later, those same board members agreed to deny Boucher’s parole for at least the next five years, meaning Boucher will not be freed until at least 2019 when he will be allowed to request a new hearing.

“This is absolutely the right decision,” Vicki Dill said, as her family celebrated in the background moments after getting the phone call announcing the decision. “Not just for us, but every other innocent family out there that could have been impacted by him.”

Dill said family members can get on with their lives, at least until gearing up for the next potential hearing. Dill has repeatedly affirmed her family’s commitment to doing all it can to ensure Boucher is never released.

“Now we have three years to breathe easy,” Dill said.

While media was invited into the victims’ portion of the hearing, neither the family nor the press was allowed to listen to Boucher’s testimony. The State Department of Corrections denied a Kennebec Journal request to provide the content of his testimony. Boucher did not have an attorney.

The four-person panel included Penobscot County Sheriff Deputy Richard Harburger, Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, Freeport attorney Lola Lea and Portland attorney Neal Duffett. Duffett, the chairman, said the board considered several factors when deliberating parole, including the nature of the crime, Boucher’s criminal history, the plan Boucher has developed to reintegrate into society if he is released, Boucher’s behavior while incarcerated and the sentiments of the community, law enforcement and Dill’s family.

“Your testimony is well received,” Duffett told the family at the hearing’s conclusion.

GOVERNOR, AG WEIGH IN

Testimony, delivered over about 90 emotional minutes, was delivered by Vicki Dill and nearly a dozen of her family and friends. Dill presented to the board folders filled with testimony and evidence and a petition with nearly 1,500 signatures of those who want Boucher to remain behind bars.

“That’s 1,492 people who believe exactly as we believe, that he should stay right where he is,” Dill said. “At the end of the day, you all can throw all this away. I can’t. Debbie’s still gone.”

The list of presenters included Gov. Paul LePage and Attorney General Janet Mills, both of whom, though unable to attend the hearing, submitted letters saying Boucher should remain imprisoned.

Arthur Jette, Maine chapter leader for Parents of Murdered Children, read Mill’s letter, which outlined Boucher’s violent history in Maine and Connecticut that not only included Dill’s murder, but assaults on women and children and threatening witnesses.

Mills, who submitted a lengthy report detailing Boucher’s criminal history, said he was suspected of other attacks initiated, like Dill’s, by bumping moving cars with his.

“The murder was a planned stalking,” Mills wrote. “He remains a danger to our society, particularly women. His propensity for violence is not something one ages out of.”

Boucher, who was a 22-year-old cook in a Lewiston restaurant when he murdered Dill in September of 1973, avoided detection until 1988, when a Kennebec County grand jury indicted him on Dill’s murder. A jury in 1991 deliberated for about two hours before returning a guilty verdict. He was sentenced to life in prison, but because the murder occurred in 1973, six years before the state eliminated parole, Boucher was eligible for release after serving 15 years.

LETTER FROM BOUCHER

Family members grew concerned last year that Boucher would be released this time around after he was moved to the minimum security Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport in May 2013, and was placed with a supervised crew that performs work in the community.

The move followed Boucher’s 2011 parole hearing, Duffett commended Boucher for his growth and insight into his behavior after Boucher wrote the Dill family a letter saying, “That whole night wasn’t an accident” and that he “took somebody’s life because of being a coward and not facing my responsibilities.”

Boucher claimed in the letter that he hit Dill’s car by accident and then panicked because he was driving without a license and was under the influence. Most of Dill’s family has not read the letter, but it impressed members of the parole board.

“The letter that you have written, we think, is an excellent letter and we are impressed by that insight,” Duffett said. “That is the kind of growth that we would like to see continue as you prepare for your next parole review in three years.”

Boucher announced that day that he would apply for community release. He was transferred to Machiasport., but seven months later was returned to the maximum security Maine State Prison in Warren. Corrections officials have denied requests by the family and Kennebec Journal to explain the reason for Boucher’s transfer back to Warren.

Several people on Wednesday scolded the parole board for its failure to treat Boucher’s letter with more skepticism, particularly since he continued to deny that he targeted Dill for attack.

“This letter is nothing more than self-serving fabrication, written by a murderer who wants to get out of prison,” said family friend Kenneth MacMaster. “Boucher had 18 years of freedom, between the time that he chose to murder and his conviction. Boucher has had his parole.”

Dill’s sister, Cindy DiRusso, is the only member of the family to read Boucher’s letter,

“As I read the letter a lot of emotions surfaced: sorrow, fear and lots of anger,” DiRusso said.

Vicki Dill’s husband, Mark Guilfoyle, reading a letter prepared by a cousin, said Boucher’s claim that he acted in fear strain credulity.

“You do not accidentally brutally beat someone to death,” Guilfoyle read. “You do not accidentally cover up for 20 years.”

Jette, offering his own testimony, said Boucher has never showed sincere contrition. He was arrested for Dill’s murder only after he attempted the same “bump and run” maneuver on a woman who escaped to tell police. Investigators conducting a search found a cache of Dill’s personal items that Boucher had kept as souvenirs.

“God only knows where Michael Boucher would be now and how many more victims he might have assaulted, raped and murdered, had it not been for the woman was able to escape and help identify him,” Jette said.

MacMaster, who is a former Maine State Police detective and current investigator for the state fire marshal’s office, said the fact that Boucher kept items from Dill’s belonging’s indicate he wished to relive the crime. Boucher has stated his desire to stay in Maine if he is released. MacMaster said Boucher has no family or support system to keep him in this state.

“Does Boucher want to hang around Maine and view the location of the crime scene in order to re-live his perversions?” MacMaster asked. “Or does he want to cause harm to some of the Dill family who have been very vocal about their desire to see Boucher serve his entire sentence.”

COLD CASE SOLVED

Retired State Police Detective Lyndon Abbott, who investigated Dill’s murder, said in December that the West Gardiner teen had been to the Lewiston Fair the night of Sept. 16. 1973. Detectives thought Boucher picked Dill at random and followed her as she began her drive home.

“We feel he followed her out of Lewiston,” Abbott said. “We knew her vehicle had been bumped. There was a light abrasion on the bumper. Later we found out he was a bump-and-run guy. He would look for a lone female and follow them. He would bump them. When they got out to assess the damages, he grabbed them.”

Detectives were not able to determine whether Boucher continued to chase Dill or he stayed back as the desperate teen fled. She crashed her car on Whippoorwill Road, a camp road in Litchfield. That’s where Boucher caught her, Abbott said.

Testimony at Boucher’s trial depicted a grisly murder that would go unsolved for years. Blood was smeared on the side of Dill’s car, which was about a quarter of mile from Route 126, according to a 1991 report in the Lewiston Sun Journal. Dill’s body was found face up. Her brassiere had been ripped off and was found beside her body. She was wearing a sweater, underpants, socks and blue suede shoes. One leg was cocked up, with a stick under it, according to the Sun Journal report.

Nelson Blackburn, the physician who did the autopsy, testified at Boucher’s trial that Dill was strangled by hand and suffered a “brutal beating” that was more than can be done with a fist, according to the Sun Journal report. There were three coin-like depressions on the side of Dill’s skull that probably had been delivered with a hammer. Dill had cuts and scrapes on her hands, face, chest, back, torso and a knee.

Boucher was in a Connecticut prison in 1988 when he came to the attention of Maine State Police investigating Dill’s murder.

“She put up an awful fight,” Abbott said. “He had to beat her with his hammer to put her down.”

Dill’s mother, Janice Kelman, recalled having to identify her daughter’s body. She could only recognize her child by a small birthmark.

“I was the one who had to see what he did to her,” Kelman said. “It’s been extra hard for me this time to think that man could get out after what he’s done to my daughter.”

LINGERING FEAR

The aftermath of the murder rocked not only the Dill family, but the area, as people wondered who had committed the murder and if he might strike again.

Walter McCarty, Dill’s cousin, said he still remembers the phone call on a Sunday morning to deliver the news. His daughter was born that same year. McCarty said he continued to be overly concerned for her safety whenever she drove somewhere alone.

“At age 18 she graduated from high school and Michael Boucher still had not been found,” McCarty said.

McCarty went Wednesday to the spot where his cousin was murdered and during the trip noticed an osprey with a fish in its talons. It was a fitting moment, McCarty said.

“When Michael Boucher bumped my cousin on the road, he was a man of prey,” McCarty said. “He’s nothing but an animal.”

DiRusso said releasing Boucher would rekindle the family’s fear of attack. She asked the board members if they would want Boucher to move in next door or be alone in the house with their children, if he was released.

“Would you risk their lives on the belief he has changed?” DiRusso asked. “I doubt it.”

Kim Dill, who was 15 at the time, recalled the years of fear she and her family endured before they knew who murdered her sister and how they wondered if the person might come back and target someone else. She said she continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which is particularly acute every time Boucher has a parole hearing.

“The nightmare never seems to end,” she said. “I can’t imagine, I mean I can’t even begin to fathom, what would happen if he is released. My sister is dead. Michael Boucher killed her. He was sentenced to life. His life is not over.”

 

Craig Crosby — 621-5642ccrosby@centralmaine.com Twitter: @CraigCrosby4