February 04, 2023

Conviction upheld in slaying

PORTLAND — A Stockholm man’s murder conviction was upheld Tuesday by the state Supreme Court in the killing of a 90-year-old widow who was stabbed to death and then sexually abused.

The slaying of Elvie Johnson in the northern Maine town of Stockholm on March 13, 1988, shocked local residents in an area where most people never locked their doors.

“A lot of people were frightened,” recalled Aroostook County District Attorney Neale Adams. “It was absolutely senseless.”

Robert A. Rossignol was arrested five days after Johnson’s killing and charged with murder. He was convicted by an Aroostook County Superior Court jury on March 8, 1989.

Rossignol was a 19-year-old high school senior at the time of his arrest. He was sentenced to 75 years in state prison on June 30, 1989, and is serving that time now, but had appealed his murder conviction.

Rossignol contended that the Superior Court erred in admitting into evidence a partially inaudible videotaped recording of his confession. He also maintained that the court erred in not giving a limiting instruction to the jury concerning the evidentiary use of the videotape in its deliberations.

The Supreme Court said in its ruling Tuesday that it found no such errors and it upheld his murder conviction.

“We feel the trial was fair and the punishment appropriate,” Maine Attorney General James Tierney said Tuesday.

Johnson’s slaying in the tightly knit community of Stockholm in 1988 prompted many older women who had been living alone to move in with friends or relatives.

“The woman was highly thought-of, a highly respected member of the community,” said Jack Faulkner, executive editor of Northeast Publishing Co., owner of the weekly Aroostook Republican newspaper.

Johnson, the widow of state Rep. James Johnson, was the Republican’s correspondent in Stockholm for more than 50 years, Faulkner recalled Tuesday.

Johnson had been choked and repeatedly stabbed about the neck and chest with two knives, prosecutors said in court. They also said her body then was sexually abused.

Rossignol was arrested on March 18, 1988, at Caribou High School. He was taken to the Caribou police station, advised of his rights and interviewed by two state police detectives, the high court ruling said.

“The interview was videotaped, but a noisy ventilation system rendered much of the conversation inaudible,” the ruling said. “One of the detectives testified at trial that (the) defendant admitted during the interview that he killed Elvie Johnson and provided corroborative details of the crime.”

Rossignol tried unsuccessfully at his trial to suppress that confession and then testified that he didn’t kill Johnson.

In his appeal, Rossignol contended the Superior Court should not have admitted the videotaped confession as evidence. But the Supreme Court ruled today that, “despite its poor sound quality, the entire videotape was admissible as evidence of the defendant’s manner while answering questions.”

Garry Greene, the assistant attorney general who prosecuted the case, said the videotape was a key piece of evidence because Rossignol contended in testifying that police had coerced the confession from him.

“It was important for the jury to see the videotape and to see his demeanor as he was confessing,” he said.

He said investigators never established a motive for the slaying.

Adams, the Aroostook district attorney, said, “It appeared to be absolutely impulse, depraved impulse, but impulse nonetheless.”

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