New Portland man pleads guilty in murder of Louise Brochu
SKOWHEGAN - A New Portland man pleaded guilty today in Somerset County Superior Court to murdering Louise Brochu in 2007, resolving a nearly three-year homicide investigation.
Jeffrey LaGasse, 32, of New Portland, pleaded guilty to murder, as part of a plea negotiation worked out by his lawyer and the Attorney General's Office. According to the terms of the agreement, LaGasse is expected to receive 30 years in prison at his sentencing hearing on June 11.
The 50-year-old victim in the case, Brochu, owned and operated Wood Flooring at a complex of buildings that housed a mill on Route 27. She lived alone in a house she had renovated on the property.
LaGasse lived less than a mile north of Brochu on Route 27 in an apartment over the former Wire Bridge Diner. The diner, since 2007, has closed.
LaGasse was employed from time to time by Brochu at the flooring mill and, according to Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, the two had a good relationship. Brochu, Stokes said, had even lent him money a couple times.
In June 2007, LaGasse and his girlfriend were in what Stokes described as "dire financial straits," with as little as $20 between them. Police believe that the motive for the murder was robbery, as Brochu's credit card was missing. Footage from an ATM at a Kingfield bank showed a hand reaching around a corner, withdrawing money from Brochu's account after the time police believe she was killed.
LaGasse's girlfriend eventually admitted that he showed up at their apartment in his boxers, with a fistful of $20 bills. Stokes said the two apparently talked about what to tell police.
On June 8, LaGasse called police, telling them he was supposed to meet Brochu but had been unable to find her. Investigators discovered Brochu outside her house, having been killed by blunt force trauma to the head.
Police initially were suspicious of LaGasse, feeling he had motive and opportunity to kill Brochu. In the coming months, LaGasse's alibi, supported by his girlfriend and claiming he had been in bed by 9 p.m., unraveled.
Instead, Stokes recounted, LaGasse claimed he had left that night to unearth buried money garnered through a robbery several years ago. The money was supposedly stashed in a cemetery in Brewer.
"He was quite detailed about the story," Stokes said, noting that LaGasse claimed that he had marked the buried money with a surveying stick and hadn't needed a shovel because the money was wrapped in plastic and hidden in a shallow hollow.
LaGasse's story fell through when he was unable to take investigators to the spot. Instead, he admitted, he had been with a female acquaintance named "Jetaime Lewis." LaGasse said he had met the woman, whom he claimed to have met in prison, in Skowhegan and had been at a party on the evening of June 7.
This alibi fell through as well, with investigators, realizing that je t'aime is French for "I love you," and finding no record of a Jetaime Lewis.
LaGasse finally claimed that he and other individuals had been at Brochu's house, and that he had struck Brochu with a piece of hardwood flooring. Stokes said that LaGasse blamed the other individuals for her death, but investigators have found no corroborating evidence that more than one person was involved.
Brochu's injuries, Stokes said, were consistent with having been caused a piece of hardwood flooring.
"We thought that we had a pretty decent circumstantial case," Stokes said.
He noted that the plea and sentencing arrangement had been made after an assessment of risk by both the State and defense. While the State had strong arguments toward motive, opportunity, and suspicious behavior on the part of LaGasse, Stokes said, it had no direct ties to the man and scene, including no DNA evidence.
"[Thirty years in prison] is not what we feel the conduct deserves," Stokes said, saying that the State could have asked for 45 to 50 years had no arrangement been reached and LaGasse been found guilty. "Given the limitations of what we had, however, and the risks of going to trial, this seemed like the best option."
The victim's family has been active in seeking answers into Louise Brochu's death, even offering a reward leading to the conviction of her killer, and is supportive of the attempt to resolve the case, according to Stokes. Family members do intend to address the court at the June 11 sentencing hearing.