Christmas 1971: Mike, right, is pictured at 15
with members of his family, including his father,
Derald Cochran Sr.,
center. He was a good-natured boy.
Photo courtesy of Leola Cochran
Micheal Cochran was born Oct. 4, 1956, to Leola
and Derald Cochran Sr. He grew up on a potato farm in Aroostook County
with his parents, an older sister and an older brother.
was good-natured and respected his parents, but he
struggled in school and then lost interest. Had he grown up in a
different era, he might have received special help in school, his mother
said. Instead he was ignored. He was teased about his learning disabilities, which made school even
less appealing. He discovered drugs at a young age – 13, his mother
Micheal attended Brewer High School in the fall of 1971 but
didn’t last the year and never went back. He was 15. After that, he ran
away often. He would hitchhike with a framed backpack carrying
everything he needed. When he was 17, he made it all the way across the
country to California. After his return, his mother found the cover of a
San Francisco phone book. ...
He was caught in March 1980
with two others at an apartment in Brewer, where police found two pounds
of marijuana, 350 amphetamine tablets and 150 tablets of LSD. [I am not
condoming Mike but this was his only drug charge]
While out on bail and awaiting sentencing, Micheal returned to his
parents’ home late one night to pick something up. His mother was awake.
He admitted to her that he was addicted to cocaine and that he hated his
life. Leola told him to get help and that she would support him, but he
In December 1980, Micheal appeared at the Penobscot County Courthouse
in Bangor to be sentenced on the drug charges. He was represented by a
local attorney, Andrew Mead, now a Maine Supreme Court justice.
through a court representative, refused to discuss the case.
The judge, ...
handed down a lengthy sentence – five years. Before he was led away by a
bailiff, though, Micheal ran. He vaulted over the stairs inside the
courthouse, injured his ankle during the landing and then hobbled toward
[His girlfriend Linda]
Gray later told Leola Cochran she heard a sheriff’s deputy call out to him, “Stop, or I’ll shoot.” Micheal didn’t stop, but the deputy didn’t shoot, either.
“Sometimes, I think that would have been a more humane death,” the mother said.
R. Christopher Almy,
[said] drugs came into Maine the way they still do today – often by car
up Interstate 95 from other states – but there was a local network of
distributors. One of the leaders was a man named
Cormier had a lengthy
drug history by the early 1980s, he also liked to steal. Specifically,
he liked to steal from drug dealers. It was the perfect crime. No drug
dealer would report a robbery to police. But Cormier
had a violent side, too. He threatened to kill the family
members of anyone who snitched on him. During one robbery, he cut off a
Leola Cochran learned later that
were at the cabin the night before it
burned, as was Gray, Micheal’s girlfriend.
But her son was the only one who died.
The night of the fire, a drug [sting] took place in Holden, the next
town over. Percy Sargent ... had been with Cochran
hours earlier, [was] arrested.
Leola Cochran has... said firefighters
[should have suspected] foul play. The fire was
clearly intentionally set, as evidenced by the intensity of the flames
and the presence of gas cans at the site.
And there was the revelation from [Fire Chief] Norman Herrin,
who led the local
volunteer fire department that responded that night. “As I arrived on
the scene, and being the first one on the scene, I did see an
individual leaving the area through the woods,” Herrin
said at the time.
Four years later
Pollard, who had a lengthy criminal history,
admitted to police – during an investigation of another crime – that it
was him, but he denied setting the fire or killing Cochran.
Still, Leola has always wondered, why didn’t police take more
seriously the fact that someone was running from the fire scene?
“If firefighters had checked
through the ruins as they do in a normal fire, the body probably would
have been discovered,” Herrin said.
But that wasn’t what happened.
Minutes after [Fire Inspector Wilbur] Ricker found the human remains, two men
[Lionel Cormier and Percy Sargent] approached the
property in a car and got out to survey the rubble. “I didn’t want them to know what I’d found, and so I just stepped
right out from behind the door in uniform, and they looked like two deer
got caught under a jack lantern or something, and they kind of froze
there and all I had was the piece of a film case and my pen,”
From the beginning, Leola Cochran always felt outside her son’s
Almy, the Penobscot County prosecutor at the time, said he still
remembers how upset she was but he understood.
“I think it was just one of those cases where (police) didn’t have a
lot of evidence to go on,” he said.
Leola Cochran has always believed that police mishandled the case.
Pollard was interviewed, albeit much later, but Cormier and Percy
Sargent were not. She couldn’t understand why.
Early on in the investigation, she asked her son’s attorney,
Mead, what he thought happened to him. His answer stunned her.
“Stay away from that, Ms. Cochran,” she said he told her. But she didn’t. The circumstances of her son’s death consumed her. The more she thought
about it, the less it made sense. Why didn’t they inspect, or
fingerprint, the gas cans that were found at the property?
... [P]olice often kept her in the dark about their investigation. Nearly three years after the murder, surprisingly, a grand jury
delivered indictments against three men for the murder of Micheal
Cochran: Richard Sargent, Roger Johnson, who went by “Bubba,” and
William Meyers, ...All three were involved in the drug game in Greater Bangor. Sargent’s
brother, Percy, was with Micheal at the cabin the night before it
burned. No one told Leola Cochran that suspects had been charged. She found
out by reading the newspaper.
But that case quickly fell apart. The state’s case hinged
significantly on the testimony of one witness, Sharon Sargent, the
sister-in-law of Richard and Percy Sargent. A habitual drug user and
sometime police informant, Sharon Sargent told police that she was at a
party the night of the Dedham fire and overheard plans to have Cochran
killed. The three men suspected Cochran of being a snitch, she said, and
were going to take care of him.
It turns out that there was an informant for the drug bust that
night, but it was not Cochran. It was Percy Cote, a low-level dealer who
had been working with drug agents.
In June 1985 the state dropped the charges against the three men
charged with Micheal’s murder.
Thomas Goodwin, who was a Maine assistant attorney general,
the time the decision had to do in large part with Sharon Sargent’s
inconsistent testimony. She is now deceased.
Goodwin, who is now retired, said it’s unusual for a case to fall
apart like that, especially a murder case. He also doesn’t dispute the
opinion of MacMaster, the former state police detective who called the
case a “travesty of justice.”
“If he thought the case was mishandled, I’d be inclined to believe
him,” Goodwin said.
Leola Cochran was devastated after charges were dropped against the
three men. She was never convinced they killed her son,
but either way
she believes law enforcement failed.
She wasn’t sure she’d ever find her son’s killer. But she kept reading the papers, looking for
certain names. In 1986, she learned about a major robbery trial she hoped would shed
light on her son’s case. That trial involved
and the Sargent brothers.
They were suspected of robbing, on two occasions, a drug dealer named Charles Dolan, who lived in the
remote town of Corinth, northwest of Bangor. The crimes occurred over a three-month period between late 1980 and early 1981,
overlapping the time Cochran was killed, according to court documents.
Cormier beat Dolan mercilessly as Dolan begged him to stop. “You wait ’til you see what I do to you now,”
Cormier said, according to court documents. He then took out a knife and cut Dolan’s left ear off. The victim didn’t realize what had happened until
Cormier dropped the ear on the floor in front of him.
Pollard testified as a state’s witness. He had initially been interviewed by Sgt.
Barry Shuman, the lead detective in the Cochran murder, about that case but instead gave information about
Cormier. During the trial, Cormier, likely as a way to get back at
Pollard, “sought to introduce evidence that implicated Pollard in the murder of a Micheal Cochran.”
That led to Pollard admitting he was at the cabin the night of the
fire and that he was the man seen running from the flames. But he said
he had nothing to do with Cochran’s death.Cormier was found guilty of the robbery.
avoided prosecution in exchange for his testimony. Cormier’s robbery trial was illuminating,
but it only confused Leola Cochran more. She was convinced she was close to the truth and couldn’t
At her own expense, she decided to sue Paul Pollard. She couldn’t
allege murder in a civil case but she could allege wrongful death and
claim that Pollard’s negligence contributed to her son’s death.
During discovery in the civil trial, Leola obtained tapes of
conversations and statements from some of the people involved, including
Percy Sargent. She has been told by police that they would not hold up
in court in a criminal case.
The lawsuit also allowed her attorney to depose Linda Gray, Micheal’s girlfriend
...Gray said she had no memory of
that night. She said she left Micheal at the cabin because she had to
get up early and go to work the next day.
Detective Shuman testified as well, although he effectively sided
Leola said she doesn’t know why, although she suspects that police
had given Pollard blanket immunity in the
Cormier robbery case.
Although the standard of proof in a wrongful death suit –
preponderance of evidence – is lower than the threshold for murder,
Leola lost the case.
Shuman died in 2005.
Ralph Pinkham, another detective who worked on
the case throughout the 1980s, is retired and lives in Hancock County.
He did not return multiple calls for comment.
In 2002, more than two decades after the murder, Maine State Police
assigned a new detective to the case, Gerald Coleman.
Leola Cochran was reluctant to sit down with another detective. When they did meet,
he told her the
investigative file on her son’s case was thin. He then asked for her
documents. She had amassed more intelligence than police by that point.
That same year, Leola Cochran’s younger son, Derald Cochran Jr., got
a letter from William Stokes, then head of the Attorney General’s Office
criminal division. Stokes explained the challenges and seemed to
acknowledge that police knew who killed Micheal but didn’t have enough
“If we bring a case to trial and we lose, that is the end of it,” he
wrote. “Thus, there is a significant difference between solving a case
in the law enforcement sense and being able to prosecute a case in a
court of law.”
Stokes is now a judge. He declined to comment through a court
Leola Cochran, however, said Coleman
told her that he could have
solved her murder on day one if he had been assigned the case then.
He narrowed his focus to
Lionel Cormier, who, even after spending
time in and out of prison for robberies and other drug-related charges,
Coleman couldn’t pin the murder on
Cormier, but he did help put him behind bars for life. With
Coleman’s help, federal prosecutors in 2003 charged
Cormier, along with
three others, with robbing a couple in Orland of their illegal drug
stash, mostly prescription painkillers. When Cormier
was sentenced for that crime in June 2005, a federal judge called him a predator. Gail Malone, then assistant U.S. attorney, said at his sentencing that Cormier had bragged in the past about killing Micheal Cochran.
Cormier didn’t deny having a role in Micheal’s death but accused
Malone of “clouding the water,” according to an Associated Press story. “I’ve been in jail all my life,” he told the judge. “You think I need the government to throw their weight on me? That’s ludicrous. Just save a spot in the cemetery for me.”
The conviction of Cormier was welcome news to Leola Cochran, even if it wasn’t for her son’s murder.
But she was never convinced he acted alone.
Her son’s case remained open. Were others walking free?
In a Sept. 5, 2006, letter to Leola from Stokes in response to a
letter she had written, the state finally acknowledged what she had
known for years. “Detective Coleman has done outstanding work on this
case but there remains tremendous difficulties with prosecuting this
case particularly in view of the fact that the ‘homicide scene’ was not
treated as such until a significant period of time after your son’s
death, potentially jeopardizing important evidence in the meantime,” Stokes
After 25 years, the state’s top homicide prosecutor admitted that
police had bungled the investigation from the beginning.
In 2007, Leola wrote to
Cormier. He was in prison and in bad health.
She thought if he was ever going to unburden himself, that would be the
But the letter went unanswered.
Cormier died in prison two years
Coleman ended his investigative career, too, and now works in the protective detail for
Gov. Paul LePage.
By October 2011, Leola Cochran was dealing with another detective,
He told her that the case was still open and revealed that a
detective was planning to travel out of state to meet with a woman named
Karen Murray, Pollard’s girlfriend at the time of the murder, who had
never been interviewed. Depending on that interview,
police would consider re-interviewing Pollard.
She doesn’t know if that ever happened [because I never heard from
Gardner again]. Pollard now lives in
California. Messages left for him were not returned.
Attempts to find Percy Sargent, who was with Micheal Cochran the
night he was killed ... were unsuccessful....
The case has taken a toll on Leola. In 1982, about a year after Micheal was murdered, she and her husband divorced.
“He lived (Micheal’s death) once,” she said of her ex-husband. “I live it every single day.”
Three years ago, Leola Cochran moved from Maine, where she had lived
her entire life, to be closer to her youngest son, Shawn.
In April, Leola got a letter from Renee Ordway, the liaison for the
cold case squad. It didn’t say much, other than that there were no new
Leola said she’s glad the state has put a spotlight on unsolved
homicides, but she’s not hopeful it will make a difference in her son’s
Leola said she has found some peace by putting her son’s story – her
story, too – in writing.
“I have a good life,” she said, “but this is my struggle.”