Argued: May 14, 2019
E. Paradie, Jr., Esq. (orally), Paradie & Rabasco,
Lewiston, for appellant Burton B. Hagar
M. Frey, Attorney General, and Lara M. Nomani, Asst. Atty.
Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for
appellee State of Maine
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, and JABAR, JJ.
Corpus delicti, which means "body of the
crime," describes the legal concept that the occurrence
of a crime must be established before a person can be
convicted of committing that crime. Corpus delicti,
Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014) (quotation marks
omitted). In this case, Burton B. Hagar relies on that
principle in his appeal from a judgment of conviction for
manslaughter, 17-A M.R.S.A. §203(1)(A) (Supp. 1978),
entered by the trial court (Cumberland County,
Warren, /.) after a conditional guilty plea. Hagar
argues that the State failed to provide sufficient evidence,
independent of his multiple confessions, to establish
corpus delicti for the alleged homicide of his
infant son. Moreover, Hagar asks us to depart from our
well-established corpus delicti doctrine and to
adopt the federal "trustworthiness"
standard.We decline to do so and affirm the trial
On April 7, 2017, a Cumberland County grand jury indicted
Hagar for the 1979 intentional or knowing murder, 17-A
M.R.S.A. § 201(1)(A) (Supp. 1978),  of his infant
son. Hagar pleaded not guilty to the charge. On July 24,
2017, Hagar filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the State
could not establish corpus delicti for the homicide.
By agreement of the parties, the trial court held an
evidentiary hearing on April 10, 2018, solely on the
corpus delicti issue. Pursuant to the agreement, the
State offered Hagar a conditional plea deal, allowing him to
plead guilty to manslaughter for a fifteen-year sentence in
the event that the trial court determined that the State had
established corpus delicti. M.R.U. Crim. P. 11(a)(2);
see State v. Reed, 676 A.2d 479, 479-80 (Me. 1996).
At the corpus delicti hearing, the parties submitted
several exhibits in evidence, including the "Report of
Investigation" and the autopsy records relating to the
baby's death; a report from the forensic pathologist
retained by the State to review those records; Hagar's
medical records relating to his mental health; and documents,
audio recordings, and video recordings containing various
confessions and admissions by Hagar over the span of several
years. The court also heard testimony from four witnesses:
the baby's mother, who was also Hagar's wife at the
time of the baby's death; a retired Brunswick police
officer who, in 1979, responded to the 9-1-1 call reporting
the baby's death; a Maine State Police detective; and the
forensic pathologist retained by the State for this case.
By order dated July 10, 2018, the court denied Hagar's
motion to dismiss. In doing so, the court made the following
factual findings, which are supported by competent evidence
in the record. See State v. Greenleaf, 2004 ME 149,
¶ 13, 863 A.2d 877; Reed, 676 A.2d at 482.
The baby was born on January 4, 1979; he was delivered
several weeks early by C-section but did not have any unusual
illnesses or medical conditions. In the months following the
baby's birth, the relationship between his parents had
deteriorated to some extent. The mother described Hagar as
someone who needed a lot of attention and who occasionally
displayed a violent temper, including throwing a dog against
a wall in a rage.
The mother was the baby's primary caretaker. She rarely
left the baby alone with Hagar, in part because Hagar became
uncomfortable when the baby cried. In caring for the baby,
the mother followed what was then standard medical advice:
she always placed the baby on his stomach when she put him in
his crib and did not place any pillows, blankets, stuffed
animals, or toys in the crib. At approximately four months of
age, the baby was not yet able to roll over.
On the day of his death-May 9, 1979-the baby experienced
diarrhea and vomiting in the morning. During the day, the
mother cooled the baby with a damp washcloth after noticing
that he was sweating. By the end of the day, however, the baby
did not appear to be sick.
At approximately 9:00 p.m. on May 9, the mother left the
family's Brunswick apartment for twenty to twenty-five
minutes to run an errand. When she left, Hagar was in the
living room watching television and the baby was awake and
also in the living room. When the mother returned, the baby
was no longer in the living room, and Hagar told her that he
had put the baby to bed; the mother did not check on the baby
at that time.
Shortly after the mother returned home, Hagar went into the
bedroom and then screamed. The mother rushed into the bedroom
to find the baby lying face up in his crib, not breathing,
his face gray; Hagar was standing next to the crib,
distraught. The mother or a neighbor called the police and
then the mother attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Paramedics soon ...