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Brian McGrory

A cold case, and warmth

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / May 27, 2011

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It’s not easy, being a homicide detective. Their clients are dead. The witnesses can be infuriating. The killings are often so pointless they defy basic logic. Every day, in so many ways, they see the worst of human nature.

Meaning that you could forgive them for growing numb to it all, for turning a blind eye to the suffering. And yet, please consider the work of a few Boston detectives who went out of their way over the past year to help a woman living out the last months of her life.

Her name is Marie Duchaney. She has terminal lung cancer. She also has an ache in her heart that stretched back 20-plus years, to the day her brother was stabbed to death in Dorchester by a killer who was never caught.

And that’s what Marie wanted in those clarifying moments when she knew there wasn’t much left. She wanted justice.

When she was diagnosed last year, her sister, Katie Scola, called Boston police to plead with them to solve the old crime and give Marie peace. She didn’t have to.

The department had a federal grant to help it solve old murders using new technology, so investigators had combed the backlog looking for unsolved stabbings, bludgeonings, and stranglings, crimes in which the killer was more likely to leave his DNA at the scene. Gleason’s fit the bill, so they had pulled the file.

“The case was right there on the desk,’’ said Sergeant Detective Bill Doogan. “Already had it.’’

Richard Gleason had returned from Vietnam and, like so many other veterans, was troubled. “A kind-hearted, compassionate soul,’’ said Katie. He was working as a laborer, volunteering with the homeless, with hope of becoming a physical therapist, when he died.

That happened on May 16, 1989. He was in a known crack den in Dorchester. His killer demanded money, stabbed him 18 times, and let him bleed to death on the kitchen floor.

Now, 21 years later, Doogan and Detectives Bob Pieroway and Juan Torres heard the ticking clock of time in the form of Marie Duchaney. She was living in a facility in Plymouth, feeling good some days, not so good on others. She breathed with the help of an oxygen tank.

Detectives tracked down old witnesses. They found new ones. And they called over to the evidence warehouse and found the victim’s bloody jacket, which they inspected for blood that spattered from the outside rather than oozed up from within — meaning blood from the killer.

All along, they kept in touch with the family, getting health updates, sharing developments. Deputy Superintendent Kevin Buckley was calling down weekly asking what was new.

“It meant something to all of us,’’ said Doogan. “You want to do a good job for the family.’’

The crime lab identified bits of blood, ran them through a database, and came up with a DNA match. The suspect: Eugene Sutton, a man identified by witnesses as being at the scene of the crime, currently in prison on a drug conviction.

So the three detectives got in an unmarked car and headed down Route 3 to share the news with Marie. “Those are good rides, verses the other rides where you knock on someone’s door and tell them to call Boston Medical Center,’’ said Doogan. Marie was hugely appreciative.

Detectives brought the case to the Suffolk district attorney’s office. It can take months to be presented to a grand jury, which could have ruined their plan to have an indictment for Marie. But Assistant DA Ian Polumbaum asked them, “How about Monday?’’

Sutton was indicted in March. He was arraigned last week. Marie was too sick to make the trip, but Katie, her sister, pulled out a sheet of paper and read me Marie’s words through tears of her own.

“We feel a sense of finality,’’ Marie wrote. “Time goes on, and we must do the same.’’

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.