State Police plan to begin their search for the remains of June Marion Collard this week.
Mrs. Collard was reported missing Nov. 27, 1980, by her estranged husband, Thomas A. Collard, who told police she ran off with another man.
The couple lived in separate dwellings in Olmstedville at the time.
Mr. Collard gave a statement to police on July 20 in Alabama after 30 years of denial, allegedly admitting he punched Mrs. Collard and presumably killed her when she went to his Wilson Road home to get her car repaired.
In the alleged confession, Mr. Collard said he threw his wife's body through an open kitchen window into a pit dug for a septic system and covered it up.
Despite the alleged admission, Essex County Public Defender Brandon Boutelle says the case is far from clear-cut.
At a felony hearing last week, Boutelle asked Karen L. DuFour, a detective with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation Violent Crimes Investigative Team, if anyone had ever reported seeing Mrs. Collard alive after she went missing.
DuFour said she believed the case file contains reference to "somebody in Minerva in the early 1980s reported they might have seen her alive."
Mr. Collard allegedly also reported seeing his wife alive.
Without a body, his July 20 statement is all that Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague's office has to go on, Boutelle claims.
At the felony hearing, he moved to have the case dismissed.
"People have not presented sufficient proof the June Collard is deceased," he said in court before Elizabethtown Town Justice William M. Garrison.
"It's not an open-and-shut case, by any stretch of the imagination," Boutelle said in an interview after the hearing.
"How would 30 years of denials change in one statement? The voluntary nature of his statement is going to be a foremost issue in the defense."
Only a few sketchy details came out in the felony hearing, but State Police detectives went first to visit Thomas Edison Collard, Mr. Collard's son, in Florida before flying to Alabama to interview the suspect.
Boutelle suggested the interview with the son prompted the statement by Mr. Collard, which led to an arrest warrant and the suspect's return to Essex County.
"If you believed every word of it, that statement would only establish an accidental death," Boutelle said, "possibly leading to (charges of) manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide."
The five-year statute of limitations has run out on those lesser possible charges, which means that prosecutors must prove second-degree murder involving intent.
In his statement to police, Mr. Collard said his wife was coming at him with a knife.
"Do you believe Thomas A. Collard intended to kill his wife?" Boutelle had asked the investigator at the felony hearing.
"Yes," DuFour said.
NO PLEA PLANNED
Boutelle would not discuss anything at all about possible plea agreements.
"No," he said, waving the air.
But, by inference, the courts cannot plead in this case, based on the expired statute of limitations.
In addition, proof beyond reasonable doubt falls on corroboration, additional evidence to prove the woman is dead and that Mr. Collard intended to kill her, Boutelle said.
"Someone cannot be convicted of a crime solely on their statement. Corroboration is going to be a question the jurors and judge are going to examine at trial."
ACTIONS 'SHOW INTENT'
Sprague pointed out that Mr. Collard admitted burying his wife in a pit beside the kitchen window. He presumably covered the remains some six months later with lime and then bulldozed the site and built a house on it.
That, Sprague says, proves intent in the degree he went to hide the body.
The District Attorney's Office has roughly six weeks to obtain an indictment from a grand jury, a proceedings that is not open to the public or the press.
A grand jury would have to indict Mr. Collard on a charge of second-degree murder for the case to be brought to trial.
"Unless they get an indictment on murder, I can't see any other way," Boutelle said. "On every other offense, the statute of limitations has run."
Boutelle said his client is remarried and maintains a home in Samson, Ala., where he was working as a laborer.
Mr. Collard is being held in the Essex County Jail.
E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: email@example.com