Jury finds Higgins guilty of murder

This story was published on Jan. 13, 2001 on Page B1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

BANGOR – A Corinth man was convicted Friday of killing a 40-year-old Kenduskeag woman nearly two years ago.

A Penobscot County jury delivered its verdict at 4:30 p.m. after about 21/2 hours of deliberation.

The murder trial against Franklin A. Higgins II began Tuesday in Penobscot Superior Court. He was accused of killing Katherine Poor in her Route 15 apartment just outside Kenduskeag Village on Feb. 27, 1999. She died of multiple stab wounds.

Higgins has been incarcerated at Penobscot County Jail since his arrest March 10, 1999. He was arrested and charged after confessing to Poor’s murder to Maine State Police detectives. He will remain in custody until his sentencing, which will occur at a later date.

Higgins initially claimed he had visited Poor’s apartment with the intent of having sex but was unable to perform because he was tired and had consumed a six-pack. He said he was home by about 8 p.m. the night she was killed. He later told police that Poor initiated the struggle with him that led to the fatal stabbing. He claimed that she came after him with a knife because she was angry that he wouldn’t spend the night.

Higgins’ arrest came one day after investigators received the results of DNA tests conducted on two cigarette butts recovered from an ashtray in Poor’s apartment. The tests showed that Higgins had smoked the cigarettes. Poor’s DNA also was detected in blood traces found on a work boot he told investigators he was wearing inside Poor’s apartment.

He pleaded not guilty to murder and gross sexual assault at his arraignment last April. The rape charge was dropped before the murder trial began.

On Friday, Higgins appeared stunned when the verdict was announced. He remained expressionless as jurors were polled individually at the request of his defense team.

Poor’s family and several of her friends, a constant presence in the courtroom throughout the four-day trial, held hands and braced themselves for the decision while waiting for jurors to emerge from their chamber just off the second-floor courtroom.

“We are a very, very close-knit, loving family,” Mike Kenny, who is married to Poor’s sister, Ann, said shortly before the jury returned its verdict. “If this is a guilty verdict we’ll be satisfied, but we’ll always suffer. This trial has not brought Kathy back.”

Once the verdict was announced, Ann Kenny expressed her family’s relief about the outcome. “Obviously, this is the verdict we were hoping for. It’s not ever going to change what happened to her but at least we can have a little bit of closure now.”

During closing arguments, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese spoke of the brutality of the attack on Poor and how Higgins bragged to fellow inmates after his arrest.

Though Higgins’ court-appointed defense team, attorneys Donald Brown and Peter Bos of Bangor, urged jurors to discount Higgins’ confession because he was a chronic liar, Marchese said the defendant apparently told the truth on some points.

“If he’s lying about it, he’s the unluckiest man alive,” she said. Marchese pointed out that Higgins provided police several details that were not generally known to the public or the media, and matched evidence found at the crime scene. Some of the details were facts “that only the killer” knew and some were unknown to police until Higgins revealed them in his confession – among them that Poor had been turned over after the attack and that he’d wiped blood off a boot before leaving the crime scene.

“It is the physical evidence. It is his words that confirm what we know from the evidence,” she said.

In Higgins defense, Brown argued that the state’s case was “built on lies” and that state police set a trap for Higgins. “The police were concerned [about the mood in the community after the murder], adopted a theory and would not back off.” All the state had proven, he said, was that “[Higgins is] a liar and he smokes Camel cigarettes.”

Calling Poor’s murder and Higgins’ arrest “a double tragedy,” Brown said that the state had not only failed to prove who committed the murder, but had failed to prove that Higgins did it.

“This was an incomplete investigation conducted by many, many people with one goal – to convict Frank Higgins,” Brown said. He acknowledged that Higgins was liar, drank a lot and may have used Poor for sex. “Frank Higgins may be immoral in many ways, but he’s not on trial for his immorality,” he said.

Higgins, Brown argued, had no reason or motive to kill Poor. Higgins’ fingerprints weren’t even found in her apartment.

Higgins’ family and friends declined comment.

Also declining to issue a statement were the jurors.

“Let our decision upstairs stand for itself,” said the jury foreman, one of seven women who served on the 12-member panel. Two alternate members were excused just before deliberations began.

Poor’s family now is struggling to move on.

“Kathy would be proud – she was a real supporter of law enforcement,” said Mike Kenny.

“Kathy lives. She’s the wind,” he said, explaining that this was one way he and his wife were working to keep her memory alive for their 31/2-year-old son. The couple expressed sadness that their child will never get to know his “Aunt Kaffy,” whose life ended before he got the chance to know her.

Members of Poor’s family praised Marchese and state police investigators for their efforts, as well as the support provided them by Mary Farrar, the victim-witness advocate assigned to them by the Attorney General’s Office.

Kristie Clark, a friend and neighbor of Poor’s who was among those called as a witness by the state, also was pleased with the trial’s outcome.

“Oh, thank God,” she gushed immediately after the verdict. “Justice has been served here today. I’m ecstatic. I can’t even tell you how much.”