Bangor Daily News

Friday, November 19, 1999

Judge decides Gogan no threat to others

By Sharon Mack, Of the Bangor Daily News Staff

SKOWHEGAN — Vella Gogan was likely driven mad by a lifetime of domestic abuse, according to testimony this week in a Skowhegan court.

After considering that she may have elected to end her 37-year abusive marriage by shooting her husband in the head three times, dismembering his body into 17 pieces and burying it throughout the woods near his hunting camp, a Skowhegan judge ruled Thursday that she poses no threat to others.

Judge Douglas A. Clapp issued the ruling and will preside over Gogan’s bail hearing this morning in Skowhegan District Court.

Gogan, 55, of Hartland, is accused of killing her husband last month, disposing of his body parts and then waiting three days before confiding to her sister what she had done. The sister, Carlene Pelletier, convinced Gogan to go to the police with her.

Testimony at Gogan’s hearing Wednesday, where her defense team attempted to secure her release on bail, was graphic and grisly, and Clapp determined there was probable cause to believe that she indeed killed her husband of 37 years, Gene Gogan.

The murder was described by Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson as an execution. Gogan, 65, was shot three times in the head at close range. His body was then ‘‘brutally hacked apart,’’ said Benson, and buried piece by piece in the woods of Mayfield. Each piece was placed in a hand-dug hole, the holes scattered in the woods and covered with leaves.

Maine State Police Detective Michael Mitchell testified Wednesday that after an extensive six-day search, police were led to the burying spots by a private detective hired by Vella Gogan’s defense team.

Mitchell said Gene Gogan’s head and torso were found first, and eventually 15 of the 17 body parts were found. His thighs were never located. Vella Gogan formerly worked as a butcher’s assistant.

Mitchell also testified that although nearly a dozen firearms were taken from the Gogan home, the murder weapon and the butchering utensils have not been found.

In the ruling on Vella Gogan’s right to bail, Clapp noted ‘‘that substantial effort had been taken by Mrs. Gogan to clean up the mess this event created in the family home.’’

The grotesqueness of the murder charges, however, were countered by Vella Gogan’s attorneys, Michaela Murphy and Janet Mills, with an assessment that she had been a victim of chronic domestic abuse by her husband, who was described ‘‘as a man of an explosive nature who was prone to publicly exhibiting rage against her.’’

The Somerset County Sheriff’s Department reported responding to one incidence of domestic violence at the Gogans’ Hartland home, while the state police had responded three times.

Vella Gogan, who was referred to in court documents as ‘‘a docile and passive individual with no history or reputation for violence or aggression,’’ has been involuntarily committed to Augusta Mental Health Institute, where she has been since her husband was reported missing. She was found to be a danger to herself at an Oct. 27 mental health commitment hearing.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the defense team said that if released on bail, Gogan would live with her brother, Walter, and have daily monitoring by an intensive case manager, treatment by her family physician, and continued psychiatric and psychological counseling.

In his written ruling, released Thursday, Clapp said that the state’s evidence against Gogan, standing alone, ‘‘would represent a clear and convincing presentation that Vella Gogan presently poses a risk of danger to the community, simply due to the nature of the crime, its manner of commission, her gruesome efforts to avoid its detection, and her psychiatric condition.’’

However, Clapp ruled, ‘‘The entire weight of the evidence suggest that the events of this crime are uniquely and closely related to Mrs. Gogan’s chronic, dysfunctional relationship with the victim, her husband, and that no other person exists in the community who would be the object of any other untoward and aberrational act by her.’’

Gogan’s defense team has maintained from the day of her arrest that her psychiatric condition was caused by more than three decades of domestic violence. Her attorneys will return to Skowhegan court this morning to negotiate bail amount and conditions.

Even if bail is set and can be met by Gogan, her condition must still be reviewed by a supervisor at AMHI. Her commitment, which is involuntary, does not expire until Dec. 1, and it could be extended if AMHI staff determine she is still a danger to herself.

Copyright © 1999 Bangor Publishing Company