John Lovell, a reporter with the
Portland Maine Sunday Telegram, did an article on my struggle to find
out what had happened to my son Michael.
It was a lengthy article written thirty-seven years ago.
“There are nights when Leola Cochran's dreams of her dead
son force her awake, when the mother's love that has turned to
compulsion drives sleep way. On these nights she rereads the police
investigation statements, listens again to the
taped interviews (Discovery information given to me by two men indicted
for Mike's murder after their indictments were dismissed) ation
about how Mike was murdered) and renews her determination to find
her son's killer.
“It's right there, all the time," she says in the daylight of the
Bangor home she shares with her husband, Derald, and their youngest son,
close to being able to find out what happened. Michael didn't deserve to
be burned to death and left under that rubble six days."
The fire in which Michael Cochran died was arson, and when his body was
found a week later, his death was termed a homicide.
In some ways, Michael Cochran's death was merely another brutal chapter in the story of the violent
subculture of drugs and crime in Maine. But it has been made
remarkable by the tireless quest of Leola Cochran to probe the
of the murder, and bring her son's killer or killers to justice.
For six years Michael's murder has been the subject of police
investigation. For six years his mother has tracked the police
investigation and undertaking her own, finding and interviewing
people who who might have pieces of his fatal puzzle.
There were time when it looked as though there was a break in the
case. In 1984, three men were indicted for her son's murder. And
there were times when the end was as elusive as ever, as when the
indictments were dropped last year after a key witness (only
witness) turned out to be unreliable (Lead detective Shuman gave the
witness her story.)
In the beginning there was only the shock of his death.
"At first I believed Michael just died in a fire. His body
had been found inside the door like he couldn't get out."
A month later, though, Mrs. Cochran says police investigators told her
that her son had been murdered (after my sister-in-law told me Mike was murdered I contacted Det,
Ralph Pinkham. He told me Percy Sargent sent a phone call to have
Mike taken care of and that Lionel Cormier killed Mike), and her long nightmare began.
She waited, expecting that arrests would come soon. Almost
immediately, she says, police investigators had developed the names
of people who had been involved with her son. But three years there
were no arrests.
What the police investigation revealed
about the death of Michael Cochran is this:
Cochran and three other people were in a lakeside cottage in
Dedham the night of the fire. The others were his girlfriend, Linda
Gray; Percy Sargent, a drug dealer; and Paul Pollard, who has
admitted being on the fringes of various criminal activities.
Percy Sargent left early in the evening. Later that night he
was arrested in a drug bust and booked
into the Penobscot County Jail in Bangor. While there, police say
Sargent made a phone call (This is what Det. Ralph Pinkham told me
in March of 1981 and then denied he told it to me).
A couple of days after the fire, (according to a Feb.
12, 1985 Paul Pollard statement) he and two associated, Lionel
Cormier (Pollard's half-brother) and [Percy Sargent] drove back to
the rubble. I remember [Percy] or Lionel telling me that Cochran's
body was in the camp and that Michael had definitely not got out.
Lionel and [Percy] pawed around in the rubble, kicking things
around. I don't know for sure, but I think they were looking for the
Pollard says he then hid out for a few days, growing worried.
"I knew that someone had committed a murder, and I didn't know who."
In his statement he identifies a person rumored to have set the fire
in dispute over drugs and theft, adding that "I felt as though I was
going to end up taking the rap for them (Lionel Cormier and Percy
Sargent) in the murder of Cochran."
Leola Cochran says "I thought they weren't going to bother with the
case. They told me they had other witnesses besides Sharon Sargent,
but they didn't.
In the fall of that year, 1985, she
began talking to the Bangor private detective who was working on the
defense [Richard Sargent's defense]. "He came to my house in October,"
Leola Cochran recalls, 'and gave me enough information so I knew
[Richard Sargent, Roger Johnson and William Myers] are not guilty.'
of frustration, Mrs. Cochran retained a lawyer, which she says
accomplished little more than deplete her checking account by a couple
of thousand dollars. She paid for some of the services of the Bangor
detective. She spent money on court documents and police reports. She
drives often to Augusta to confer with state prosecutors.
She talks with [criminals] at the state prison, jail,
elsewhere, taping conversations.
Continually, she telephones investigators, reminding
them of her interest, suggesting theories of the case and leads to
“Just three weeks ago the investigators [Det. Ralph Pinkham and
Assistant AG Thomas Goodwin] came to her home to discuss the case.
She told them of
tape recordings in which one of the principals in the case points the
finger at another.
The central figures in the case include some whose
roles are partly known and partly unknown, in a sea of hearsay and
changing statements supported by little solid evidence.
There are Lionel
Cormier and Percy Sargent, and Richard Sargent all convicted graduates
of a drug and robbery underworld. There is Paul Pollard, who was the last person known to be
in the cottage with Michaal Cochran. And there are Sharon Sargent, the
ex-key witness, and Linda Gray, who was in the Dedham cottage hours
before the fatal fire and who now, investigators say, remembers
remarkably nothing about anything.
In fact, there are several second-hand accusations floating
around in the case in which various people say others or each other
killed Michael Cochran.
[Assistant AG] Goodwin, who visited Leola Cochran recently
with a state police detective [Ralph Pinkham], says she indicated
that she has a tape recording of a telephone conversation
implicating [two of the men in the cottage before Michael was
But he says she declined to let him
hear it [I had given them everything I uncovered, and they ignored it
all. Why give them more].
"So all we have is second hand allegations, which is not
evidence," he says.
He has "a lot of sympathy for Lee Cochran.
But from a prosecutorial point of view, it[s] extremely frustrating to
be told ‘I've got evidence, I’ve go the key to the case,' and when you
try to follow up, the evidence just isn't there.
People are declining to
provide us with what they say they can provide us. The people who claim
to have information won't give it.’
Leola Cochran says Goodwin and the
investigators “just tell me, ‘Lee, our priority is this murder, don't
think we are not doing anything, it's just that we don't have anything
to go on - no one will talk.’
“‘I have been possessed with this for a long time. I've
talked to so many people. They say to me, ‘How can you do it.’ I tell
them: ‘You could too, if it was your son. I can't rest knowing he was
killed and no one cares. I can't live. I don't think the police will
ever solve it.'
She pauses in her assessments.
Sometimes Leola Cochran returns to the clearing in woods
where the cottage once stood. She tries to picture how it must have been
that moonlit night, flames roaring into the sky, burning the cottage
down into the melting snow.
"It hasn't been an easy thing," she says.
"It's something we live with. If we could learn what happened to
Michael, we could lay it to rest."
"My youngest son turned 10 in the year Michael died. They
were very close. Michael used to take him with him all the time. He
needs to live for himself and not have this with him all the time.
We need to get back to a normal way of living"
“A few months
ago, on Oct 4, was what would have been Michaal Cochran's 30th birthday.
[He would have been forty-eight this October 2004] "It was a very
difficult day for me. We made it a family thing - we took flowers to the
cemetery.’ They do that every year on Oct. 4.”