Father in Brunswick cold case pleads not guilty to murdering son

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BRUNSWICK — Burton “Ben” Hagar pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murdering his 4-month-old son 38 years ago, in the first case brought by the state’s new Unsolved Homicide Unit.

Maine State Police arrested the 62-year-old former Brunswick resident April 7 at his Marvel Street home in Farmington, following an indictment on murder charges by a Cumberland County grand jury.

Hagar is being held without with bail in Cumberland Country Jail until a future court date is scheduled.

According to Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, police recently discovered new information regarding the death of Nathan Hagar, who died at Brunswick’s Parkview Hospital on May 9, 1979, after being found unresponsive at Hagar’s School Street apartment.

At the time, police attributed the death to sudden infant death syndrome.

Detectives reopened in the case in 1991, according to McCausland. Working with the state’s newly formed homicide unit, detectives unearthed new information nearly four decades after the infant’s death, which led to the attorney general’s office presenting the case to a grand jury.

Assistant Attorney General Megan Elam would not specify the kinds of new evidence brought forward that lead to Hagar’s arrest, but said “a host of different kinds of evidence” were collected over the last year and a half.

Justice Thomas Warren presided over the afternoon arraignment April 12 in Cumberland County Superior Court, where Hagar met his defense attorney, Vern Paradie, earlier that morning. Paradie said he has “no idea” what new evidence was found against Hagar because he hasn’t had an opportunity to review the information.

He noted that in the 38 years since Nathan Hagar’s death, Burton Hagar hasn’t had any problems with the law.

The chief of the state police praised the new investigative unit with bringing charges in its first case.

“There are more than 100 Maine unsolved homicides and the new unit is reviewing each case,” Col. Robert Williams said. “The hard work of this dedicated group from state police and the attorney general’s office have brought this first unsolved homicide to this point, and there will be other success stories as their work continues.”

The new Unsolved Homicide Unit has been fully staffed since February 2016. The infant boy’s death is the oldest unsolved homicide case state police say they have resolved. Previously, the oldest case led to the arrest of a man in 2012 for an Augusta homicide that took place in 1976, 36 years earlier.

“There is no expiration date on our efforts to bring people to justice,” Elam said Wednesday. 

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Former Brunswick resident Burton “Ben” Hagar, right, was arraigned April 12 in Cumberland Country Superior Court after being charged April 7 with the murder of his 4-month-old son 38 years ago.

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.