PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A father who pleaded not guilty Wednesday to killing his infant son has no criminal history and is upset by the allegations raised nearly 38 years after his son’s death, his defense lawyer said.
Burton “Ben” Hagar, 62, of Farmington, stood quietly with his hands behind him during his arraignment for what’s described as the oldest cold case homicide to lead to charges in Maine.
“He’s clearly distraught,” defense lawyer Verne Paradie said afterward. “Obviously he’s having to relive the death of his small child.”
The death of 4-month-old Nathan Hagar on May 9, 1979, at a Brunswick hospital originally was classified as sudden infant death syndrome. New information led to the investigation being quietly reopened in 1991 and additional information was gathered over the last year and a half, said Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam.
Elam said she’s confident that the state can prove its case against the father nearly four decades later.
“There’s never an expiration date on our efforts to bring people to justice, especially for crimes against children,” she said.
The boy’s mother and Hagar divorced years ago and she did not attend the hearing. Prosecutors said they’ve kept her updated on the proceedings.
Paradie said he’ll argue for Hagar to be released on bail at a hearing at a later date. He said Hagar has other children and has no criminal history dating to 1978, making him a good candidate for release.
“Given that Mr. Hagar has no criminal history, he doesn’t present a risk to the community,” Paradie said. “That doesn’t mean he’s going to get (bail) but it’s worth a shot,” he added.
Until Hagar’s arrest, the oldest case state police had cracked resulted in the arrest of Gary Raub in 2012 for a homicide that took place 36 years earlier in 1976. Raub later died in prison.
Elam declined to discuss evidence or to say how investigators believe Nathan died. The body was not exhumed, officials have said.
The case is described as the first success of the state’s unsolved homicide unit, which assisted on the case after its creation last year.
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