ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE AND MAINE STATE POLICE REFUSE TO RESPOND

July 1981, five months after Mike’s murder, I wrote Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Henry F. Ryan to ask how Mike had been identified, if he had been injured before the fire, and if any of Mike’s jewelry had been recovered. I was not expecting a reply after the way I had been treated by detectives Ralph Pinkham and Barry Shuman, the detectives on Mike’s case, Deputy Attorney General James Brannigan Jr. and the local district attorney. I was surprised when I received a prompt, three-page reply from Dr. Ryan, dated July 21, 1981.

Re: Micheal Cochran ML 81-178

Dear Mrs. Cochran,

I have reviewed the autopsy report as prepared by my associate, Dr. Ronald Roy, and have had him review this letter of reply to you.

CONDITION OF BODY WITH SPECIFIC REFERENCE TO ARMS AND LEGS:

The body was badly charred and burned. This heating of the tissue and the cold weather at time are why it was relatively well preserved over what one might have expected had the incident not involved fire and had the death occurred in the summer [and not been left for six-days under a pile of fire rubble].

The left arm was missing from the mid-point of the upper arm. No forearm or hand was recovered. The right arm and hand were burned severely but essentially intact. Parts of some fingers were missing from the body but some of these missing parts were found separately in the ashes where the body lay.

The left leg was complete to the knee  but further down, portions were not recovered. The right leg was burned but present to four inches below the knee. The rest was not recovered.

Portions of the head were severely burned and absent.

These findings are quite common in severe fires such as this one was.

IDENTIFICATION:

The remains were identified with certainty through the dental comparison of the remains with dental records supplied by the Maine Youth Center.

In addition, a scar was noted on the chest which was quite unusual. This correlated with the medical history from the Eastern Medical Center which documents mediastinal lymph nodes (glands of the central chest) having been biopsied for sarcoidosis. The unusual nature of the scar which is explained by past surgery is very strong corroborating evidence for the identification made definitively by the dental comparison. As you probably know, dental identification is an excellent and well accepted means of making positive identification.

I contacted Eastern Maine Medical Center sometime after reading this requesting Micheal’s medical records. Mike was admitted to the hospital January 10, 1977 and a biopsy was performed on January 13. His Medical Report states:

“With the patient under general anesthesia the skin of the neck was prepared and suitable drapes were applied. A transverse incision was made just above the suprasternal notch … Examination of the bronchial tree was carried out … Some inflammation was seen … Biopsies were taken …”

So how did the medical examiner identify Mike by a scar on his chest?  Also the last page of the autopsy report is a work sheet that states that “upper and lower jaws removed for further identification.” A death certificate signed on February 25, 1981 by Dr. Roy lists pending investigation under cause of death with trapped in house fire as how injury occurred. June 1, 1981 a cause of death supplement lists homicide as cause of death, 96 days after cremation. And further evidence discovered in 1990 revealed a dental chart mix-up between Dr. John C. Seidel, D.M.D. and Dr. Ryan’s office. The dental comparison wasn’t completed until the last of May 1981, three months after the cremation.

PERSONAL EFFECTS:

No jewelry was handled by our office. Perhaps the police have some further information on watches, rings or necklace.

CAUSE OF DEATH:

When a person is alive during a fire that person continues to breathe while the fire is producing smoke and a chemical that comes from fire, carbon monoxide. The smoke is inhaled along with the carbon monoxide. The smoke that is inhaled is trapped in mucus in the passages of the throat, trachea and lungs as soot. We do not identify smoke which is soot suspended in air directly, rather we identify the soot that the smoke contains and is left behind in the mucus. Soot was clearly present in the deceased’s air passages. We also analyze for carbon monoxide entrapped in the blood. This carbon monoxide is not found in the air in significant quantity in the absence of fire. That it reaches the blood means that it had to have been inhaled while the person was breathing and the heart beating.

Carbon monoxide was identified in the blood of Micheal Cochran. These two findings support the conclusion that there was life during the fire. These findings do not necessarily imply consciousness during the fire. Unfortunately many people die of smoke inhalation because they do not awaken in time when their home catches fire.

OTHER INJURIES:

The state of the remains being what they were, the possibility of other injuries is a difficult matter.  The severe charring might obscure or eliminate evidence of other injury. Regardless of the issue of other injuries the fact remains that significant amounts of soot and carbon monoxide were inhaled and for the reasons given above, that means life during the fire. We know that he did not escaped after the fire started and so we conclude that he was alive up to the time of the fire and during it and that the fire had been sufficiently severe that it would take the life of anyone trapped in it.

Please contact us if you have any further questions.

Sincerely,

Henry F. Ryan, M. D/

Chief Medical Examiner


While gathering information concerning Mike’s murder during the five years after his murder, I was told by several people that Mike had been shot. I decided to contact Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Henry Ryan again to ask if Mike could have been shot. His letter in July of 1981 had said that if I had further questions to “contact us.” But in this contact, I was told any other questions concerning the autopsy report would have to be approved by Maine Deputy AG Fern LaRochelle, head of the Criminal Division.

I immediately wrote Deputy AG LaRochelle asking him to allow CME Dr. Ryan to answer my question as to whether a gunshot could have caused most of Mike’s head to be missing:

Dear Mr. LaRochelle:

My name is Leola Cochran. I am the mother of Micheal Cochran, a victim of arson/murder, Feb. 18, 1981, in Dedham, Maine.

July 1981, I wrote the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Augusta for the autopsy report, which I received [I was so ignorant to all this that I thought at that time that the letter I got from Dr. Ryan describing the condition of Mike’s body was an autopsy report.] and in closing stated that if I had any further questions to please contact us.

I have had no further questions until now. I called the office and talked to someone there. I was told any further questions I have now will have to go through the Attorney General’s Office and was given your name,

Other evidence has come to light on [Mike’s] murder leading us to believe he was shot before the fire. In a 1981 letter I received from Dr. Ryan, he stated that portions of the head were missing and also that the state of the remains being what they were the possibility of other injuries is a difficult matter.

My question is: Could it be possible that the back of [Mike’s] head was missing before the fire because of a gunshot wound? If not please explain to me why this could not have happened. I would like a letter from the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office answering this question for me.


When Deputy AG LaRochelle did not respond to my letter, I contacted Dr. Ryan making him aware of this. Dr. Ryan wrote me a letter and included a copy of a letter he had sent to Maine Attorney General Deputy AG LaRochelle..

Dr. Ryan’s letter:

September 10, 1986

Dear Mrs. Cochran,

Ordinarily we do not consider exchanges between this office and the Attorney General as open records and could not comply with your request for a copy of the letter we sent to Mr. LaRochelle at the time of your recent inquiry, however, this is merely a matter of administrative business and we have made an exception since the issue concerns your request rather than the case itself. Enclosed is a copy of the letter.

Sincerely,

Henry F. Ryan, M.D.

Chief Medical Examiner


Dr. Ryan’s letter to Deputy AG LaRochelle:

August 27, 1986

Dear Fern,

Re: Micheal Cochran ML 81-178

I understand that Mrs. Leola Cochran wrote to you concerning this case and the possibility of a gunshot wound to the head. She called this office first and was referred to you. She now writes that she has not heard from you and is quite concerned regarding the speculation referred to above.

Please advise on how we might proceed. The answer to her question, if you believe that we should answer it, had best come from Dr. Roy. Please follow up with him.

Enclosed are copies of previous correspondence with Mrs. Cochran and a copy of her current letter.

Sincerely,

Henry F. Ryan, M.D.

Chief Medical Examiner

Dr. Ryan’s letter didn’t move Deputy AG Fern LaRochelle. He completely ignored my request for an answer to whether my son could have been shot before the fire was set.


On September 17, 1986, I wrote Maine State Police Captain Reynald LaMontagne letting him know how I felt about Shuman supervising Mike’s murder investigation. Shuman had been the lead detective on Mike’s murder case since 1981 and now after more than five years with nothing done on the case he was going to supervise it.

Dear Captain LaMontagne:

I believe assigning another detective to this case with Det. Shuman as the supervisor will not give us a fresh look at this case. We need to start again with someone not familiar with the case, or we are going to be on the same merry-go-around we have been on for nearly six years.

Fire investigation report by [Fire Inspector] Wilber G. Ricker, 2–18–81, line 25, states at first it was believed to be a dog. Sir, he was not a dog. He was my son. He deserves justice the same as anyone else. We would not leave a dog for six days under a burned pile of fire rubble.

Perhaps this case is an embarrassment to Det. Shuman, but I will pursue this case until I finally get some results. I am obsessed with my son’s murder and the fact that his murderers are walking free.

Maine State Police Captain LaMontagne did not respond to my letter. He and Maine Deputy AG Fern LaRochelle completely ignored me. This was nothing new for me. It was the same treatment I received from the Maine State Police and the Maine Attorney General’s Office since Mike was murdered, nearly six years previous.


After writing Captain LaMontagne, I again contacted Dr. Ryan to let him know that I hadn’t heard from Deputy AG LaRochelle. Dr. Ryan wrote LaRochelle again on September 19, 1986:

Dear Fern,

Re: Micheal Cochran ML 81-178

Mrs. Cochran called this date and advised that she had not heard further from you regarding her inquiry. She asked that I send a reminder letter.

Sincerely.

Henry F. Ryan

Chief Medical Examiner

Maine Deputy AG LaRochelle continued to ignore me as well as Dr. Ryan’s request (as far as I know) as to whether he should answer my question concerning the possibility that Mike had suffered a gunshot wound before the fire was set.


It was now six years and five months since Mike’s brutal murder and the AG’s office had completely shut me out. They would not respond to anything I asked about my son’s murder. I met three men who had been indicted for arson and Mike’s murder, after the false indictments were dismissed. They gave me their discovery documents. I now had further questions. July 1988, two years later, I contacted Dr. Ryan again.

Dear Dr. Ryan:

I am writing you once again with another question. Hopefully you can answer this one without going through the Attorney General’s Office. Fern LaRochelle refused to give his permission for you to answer my last question.

I have a copy of the autopsy report performed by Dr. Ronald Roy at the Augusta General Hospital on February 25, 1981 at 10:40 a.m. I also have a copy of a report from the Sheriff’s Dept. This report states that on February 24, 1981 the District Attorney’s Office (David Cox) notified the Sheriff’s Dept. that Micheal Cochran was deceased and case closed by exceptional means.

I am enclosing two pages from an affidavit of Lieutenant Ralph Pinkham [obtained from Richard Sargent, a brother to one of the murderers.]. On the second page, number 5, Lt. Pinkham’s affidavit reads: “Later in the day on February 24, 1981, I was advised by Chief Medical Examiner Henry Ryan that the body had been positively identified as that of Micheal Cochran.”

The question I would like answered is, “How did you advise Lt. Ralph Pinkham later in the day on February 24, 1981 that you had positively identified the body as that of Micheal Cochran. How can you do a positive identification of a badly charred and burned body before you [leave the murder scene or] receive the dental records or do an autopsy?

If you knew positively on February 24, 1981 that the body was Micheal Cochran, why did you need his dental records?


Dr. Ryan’s response was dated July 22, 1988:

Dear Mrs. Cochran:

Re: Micheal Cochran, ML 88-178

The law remains in effect that we cannot release information concerning any case under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office without going through them. I have prepared a reply to your letter and have sent it to Deputy Attorney General Fernand LaRochelle to respond to you.

Sincerely.

Henry F. Ryan

Chief Medical Examiner


August 8, 1988, I received a letter from Deputy AG LaRochelle.

Dear Mrs. Cochran:

I enclose a copy of a letter written to me by Dr. Ryan in response to an earlier letter of yours.

I am—

Very truly yours,

Fernand R. LaRochelle

Deputy Attorney General

Criminal Division

This was the only response I ever got from Deputy AG Fern LaRochelle.


The following is the July 22, 1988 letter Dr. Ryan had written to Deputy AG Fern LaRochelle in response to my letter.

Dear Mr. LaRochelle:

Re: Micheal Cochran, ML 81-178

I have no idea how Mrs. Cochran got the records she sent me a copy of, but she apparently has the autopsy report, not stamped with out “Do Not Copy” stamp.

In any event, I am enclosing her latest letter and attachments and a copy of my reply to her.

This case is too old for me to remember details not spelled out in the report. I am not responsible for entries made by others than myself and my personnel in any record. The identification of the deceased was made initially by the circumstances, the police suspecting who it was The next item toward identification was the finding of the scar. The scar was consistent with mediastinal lymph node biopsy. Such scars are unusual, especially in young people. Based upon those bits of evidence we probably felt confident that we could release the body as identified.

This is routine practice as we endeavor, for the sake of the family and our own logistical problems, to release bodies promptly based upon probability of identification. I have no idea if the word “positive” was ever used, but that is a relative term and not inappropriate in the face of the evidence developed. Of course, in order to be sure (very positive or absolutely positive), we then confirm our decision on identity with dental comparison. This is, as I say, quite routine practice.

You can handle this matter and my reply as you see fit.

Sincerely,

Henry F. Ryan

Chief Medical Examiner


The information in Ryan’s letter to LaRochelle didn’t correspond with the information in Ryan’s letter to me in July of 1981. He wrote LaRochelle that the “identification of the deceased was made initially by the circumstances, the police suspecting who it was.”   That is not what Ryan wrote me in July of 1981. At that time he said “the remains were identified with certainty through the dental comparison.” But now he says he has no idea if the word “positive” was ever used” and that Mike’s body was released “upon probability of identification.” He mentions finding the scar but does not say it was on his chest as he had in his 1981 letter. Mike had been released for a cremation upon probability of identification.

During my law suit against one of the murderers in 1989, I obtained a permit (I suspect was submitted to the Mt. Hope Cemetery Corp.) to cremate what was left of my dear son’s severely charred body. It was created on February 26, 1981, one day after his autopsy. This permit was signed Henry Laitz MD. I tried to find this man but was unable to. I was told that he was living overseas.

Permit to cremate the dead body of Micheal C. Cochran: “I have made personal inquiry into the cause and manner of death of the above named person and I am satisfied that no further examination or judicial inquiry concerning this death is necessary. Permission is hereby granted to cremate the dead body of the person named hereon.

I also learned that Mike’s jaw bones were still at the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office.  Mike was not identified when his body was returned to his family for a recommended cremation.

In 2002, 21 years, after Mikes murder his jaw bones were returned to his family for burial. I was told that I first needed to write a letter to Jim Ferland at the CME’s office giving him permission to transfer Mike’s remains for burial:

I give my consent for you to deliver to Jerry Hughes the remains of my son, Micheal Craig Cochran, which has been held at the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office for further identification since 1981 for burial.


During my lawsuit against Paul Pollard in 1989, my attorney contacted Dr. Henry Ryan. Ryan told my attorney that his office “did not have very much information on the Cochran murder, because there was not very much information.” He said that he “believed the case was not really under investigation.” My attorney said “what was of interest was his assertion that the case is really de facto closed.” This was true in 1989 and is true yet today—38 years after Mike’s brutal murder.


Below is testimony Deputy ME Roy gave during his March 23, 1990 deposition concerning no trauma to Mike body that was burned beyond recognition.

Attorney Popkin: “All right. Now, could you please tell me what you concluded from your examination at that time?”

Roy: “I concluded that the cause of death was due to inhalation of products of combustion including carbon monoxide. ... That’s based on presence of soot in the trachea. ... There was no evidence of gunshot wounds, stab wounds to the chest, to the trunk or head.

Attorney Popkin: “Okay. Now, do I understand you that what you are saying is that there was no obvious cause of death?”

Roy: “That’s right.”

Attorney Popkin: “And did you find any evidence of trauma?”

Roy: “No.”

Attorney Popkin: “Okay. That means no stab wounds, no gunshot wounds?”

Roy: “That’s right.”

 

Dr. Roy’s testimony contradicted the information I received from Dr. Henry Ryan in his July 1981 letter. He wrote me that “The state of the remains being what they were, the possibility of other injuries is a difficult matter.”  And Dr. Roy’s February 25, 1981 autopsy states: The back, sides and back half of the top of the skull is absent with severely burnt ends of bone noted at the sutures.” How could Dr. Roy say that there was no evidence of gunshot wounds to the head when the back, sides and back half of the top of the skull was absent?


I recently contacted Cyril H. Wecht, M.D., J.D., who is a highly experienced forensic pathologist with both a medical degree and a law degree.  I told him that Dr. Roy listed Mike’s death as “Inhalation of products of combustion including carbon monoxide” and that it was “based on soot in the trachea.” He said it was wrong to say that he died of carbon monoxide poisoning because of soot in the trachea. He said Mike would be breathing and his heart would still be beating for a while even if he had been harmed. He thought Dr. Roy should have explained that he couldn’t tell if he was injured before the fire because of the severe charring. He thought the AG’s Office should have allowed the Maine Medical Examiner’s Office to answer my questions about my son’s death.


December 3, 2017, nearly thirty-seven-years after Mike’s violent murder, Eric Russell, a reporter with Portland Press Herald wrote an article on my struggle for justice for my son, Mike. Many of the state’s law officials who were involved in Mike’s case over the years refused to speak with the reporter.

Russell reported that Kenneth MacMaster, a former Maine State Police detective who knew Mike agreed with his mother that the case was mishandled. In an interview with the newspaper, he called the case a “travesty of justice,” and said the details were etched into his memory. After MacMaster offered to share those details, “he stopped returning a reporter’s calls and emails.”

The Telegram interviewed attorneys and detectives who were involved, some of whom would not speak on the record. “That review revealed a murder investigation that was troubled from the beginning and got worse.”

Lt. Troy Gardner, the detective assigned Mike’s case after Det. Coleman left the case “declined to discuss any specifics of the Cochran case.”

Mike’s attorney, Andrew Mead, who is now a Maine Supreme Court justice, .through a court representative, “refused to discuss the case.”

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Goodwin, who was on Mike’s in the 80s and is now retired, didn’t dispute the opinion of MacMaster, the former state police detective who called the case a “travesty of justice.”

Mike’s girlfriend, Linda Gray, who was with Mike the night he was murdered, said “she had no memory of that night.”

Paul Pollard, the man seen fleeing the murder scene, now lives in California. “Messages left for him were not returned.”

Ralph Pinkham, the supervisor on Mike’s case when he was murdered and for years afterward “did not return multiple calls for comment.”

William Stokes, another Assistant Attorney General on Mike’s case, who is now a judge “declined to comment through a court representative.”

In Russell’s article he told about a Sept. 5, 2006 letter I had received from Stokes in response to a letter I had written him. He said the state finally acknowledged what I had known for years. Stokes letter to me said that “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.” Russell reported that “After 25 years, the state’s top homicide prosecutor admitted that police had bungled the investigation from the beginning.”