LEWISTON, Me. — The killing of Kimberly Dobbie happened in broad daylight, on the sidewalk near a laundromat. That was rare.
The accused, Albert Flick, was of an age at which even hardened wrongdoers tend to age out of crime: 76.
And while the fact that Mr. Flick had murdered his wife nearly 40 years earlier may make him sound dangerous, convicted murderers are actually the least likely criminals to reoffend.
But Ms. Dobbie’s killing has left many in Lewiston wondering whether more could have been done to protect her. Law enforcement has struggled for decades to find ways to identify and protect the public from people who have served their time but have a pattern of repeated violence. The problem is particularly acute when it comes to violence against women or intimate partners.
After Mr. Flick was released from prison for killing his wife, he was found to have assaulted or threatened women on three separate occasions between 2007 and 2014. Had he been imprisoned longer — as a prosecutor recommended at one point — or remained on probation, the authorities might have been able to keep a closer eye on him. But Mr. Flick had served his sentence and had the right to live freely.
By 2018, Mr. Flick was off the radar of law enforcement in the communities where he lived and spent most of his time.
“He was screaming for attention from the criminal justice system,” said Mark Wynn, a retired Nashville police officer who is on the board of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “The question for us in the criminal justice world is: What are we prepared to do to stop that attack and potential murder?”
In 1979, Mr. Flick was living in Westbrook, Me., and working at a doughnut shop. His wife, Sandra Flick, served him with divorce papers and had the police escort him out of their apartment. When Mr. Flick came to get his things, he brought a jackknife.
Ms. Flick’s daughter from a previous marriage, Elsie, hid in a bedroom and watched as Mr. Flick bent her mother’s arm behind her back and covered her mouth with his hand. The daughter fled the apartment. When a neighbor went up to check on Ms. Flick, he saw Mr. Flick on the stairs, covered in blood, and found Ms. Flick stabbed four times in the neck and chest, and once through her heart.
Mr. Flick was convicted of the murder and served 21 years. But the violence continued after his release: He was convicted of punching and stabbing a woman — who a prosecutor said was a girlfriend — with a fork in 2007, and of assaulting and threatening another woman with whom, a prosecutor said, he had a sexual relationship, in 2010. (When the police arrived on the scene, they found Mr. Flick trying to hang himself.)
After that attack, a prosecutor, Katherine Tierney, pronounced him a danger to “women and society” and urged a judge to sentence Mr. Flick to about eight years. Despite his age, she told the judge, “his history has shown that he’s not about to” stop.
But Judge Robert E. Crowley sent him back to prison for less than four years instead.
“At some point Mr. Flick is going to age out of his capacity to engage in this conduct,” Judge Crowley said, “and incarceration beyond the time he ages out doesn’t seem to me to make good sense from a criminological or fiscal perspective.”
Eight years later, that decision has angered Ms. Dobbie’s friends and family, as well as his previous victims. “There is no age that is ‘too old’ to commit murder,” said Elsie Kimball Clement, the daughter of Sandra Flick. “He never should have been on the streets.”
The time behind bars did not serve as a deterrent. After Mr. Flick got out, he verbally threatened the victim of the 2010 attack and went back to prison. By this year, he was free once more and had moved to Auburn, just over the river from Lewiston, where he lived with a nephew, his lawyer said. Local law enforcement officials had no idea he was there, nor of his criminal past.
“Someone with a violent criminal history, if they’re coming out of prison, not on probation, we may never know who they are until the wrong moment,” said Deputy Chief Jason Moen of the police department in Auburn.
Mr. Flick first crossed paths with Ms. Dobbie at the library in Lewiston, her friends said. Ms. Dobbie, the mother of twin 11-year-old boys, was homeless and living in a shelter, and the library was one place she went during the day, when she was required to be out of the building. Mr. Flick offered to buy her sons the healthy lunches she could not always afford. “She was just plain out of money,” said Katharyn Cormier, a resident at the shelter who grew close to Ms. Dobbie, “and any mother’s going to accept that.”
Soon, Mr. Flick became her shadow.
Hunched and hard of hearing, he turned up everywhere she went, Ms. Dobbie’s friends said, winding his way around the library shelves or appearing near the bus station while she waited there. She asked him to leave her alone and rebuffed his entreaties for a romantic relationship, her friends said, but he only seemed more fixated.
Ms. Dobbie, 48, was born in the verdant Boston suburb of Concord, and worked as an assistant teacher for about a decade. She moved to Maine when she was unable to find affordable housing in Massachusetts and wanted to strike out on her own, her mother said. Her friends described her as energetic and positive, the kind of mother who kept whole wheat crackers in a bag for her sons and went searching high and low when one of them asked for a textbook on World War II for his birthday.
The family had finally gotten an apartment of their own, outside Lewiston. But on a Sunday morning in July, the day before caseworkers were going to take them to their new home, Ms. Dobbie was stabbed to death in front of her sons.
Three days later, Mr. Flick shuffled into court for his first hearing, his bent frame shrouded in an orange jumpsuit and black headphones, meant to help him hear, suctioned to his ears. His lawyer, Allan Lobozzo, said in an interview that his client would likely use an insanity defense.
“It’s not a whodunit, it’s a question of why it happened,” said Mr. Lobozzo, who listed dementia, stroke or head injury as possible explanations. When asked about Mr. Flick’s violent history, Mr. Lobozzo said, “I think I would make the argument that the violence is a symptom of mental illness.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Flick pleaded not guilty and a judge ordered him held without bail.
Communities around the country are experimenting with ways to stop habitual perpetrators of violence against women. High Point, N.C., reduced its domestic homicide rate when it tried a “focused deterrence” program — first developed in Boston in response to gang violence — that closely tracked offenders and handed down increasingly stiff penalties for any new offense. In New Jersey, two killings drew attention to the limitations of a risk assessment tool designed to help judges determine whether to release defendants, sparking an effort to make it more effective in domestic violence cases.
A Domestic Violence High Risk Team, developed in Massachusetts, monitors the situations most likely to end in homicide, like when a victim is in the process of leaving her abuser.
Domestic violence “deals with some significant behavioral issues, as opposed to situational issues,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University. “It’s really hard to tell which domestic abusers and domestic killers will repeat and which ones won’t. Most won’t, but some do.”
For the past two and a half years in Maine, where about half of murders result from domestic violence, police officers have been asking people they arrest 13 questions to assess the risk of another attack.
Ms. Dobbie’s friends said she had told a police officer about the issues with Mr. Flick, but Brian O’Malley, the chief of the Lewiston Police Department, said there was no record of such an interaction. “She didn’t come to us,” Chief O’Malley said. “I wish she had.”
Ms. Dobbie and her friends thought that Mr. Flick was too old to pose a real physical threat. Still, the night before her death, Ms. Dobbie came back to the shelter visibly anxious about Mr. Flick, Ms. Cormier said. To defuse the tension, they joked that a crayon that had stained her shirt in the washing machine would start a new fashion trend, and someone suggested they get Mr. Flick a mail-order bride.
But they advised her to tell him, by text message, to stay away. “That Saturday night, it was, you know, no matter how meek this man is, these things can turn very fast,” Ms. Cormier said. “We did not expect it to be within 10 or 12 hours.”
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