LAWRENCE - Marvin McClendon, the 74-year-old man charged with the 1988 murder of 11-year-old Melissa Tremblay in Lawrence, was ordered held without bail Friday.
McClendon was arrested in Alabama last month and was brought back to Massachusetts this week for his arraignment in Lawrence District Court. He pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge.
According to the Essex District Attorney's office, McClendon is a retired Massachusetts Department of Corrections officer and was doing carpentry work at the time of the murder.
Tremblay, who lived in Salem, New Hampshire, was with her mother and mother's boyfriend at a social club in Lawrence on September 11, 1988. She left the club to play in nearby neighborhoods and was found dead a day later, stabbed in the neck in a freight yard off Andover Street. The case had been unsolved for more than 33 years.
In court Friday, prosecutor Jessica Strasnick said DNA evidence recovered from the girl's body led them to McClendon in Alabama.
"Understanding that it could have been anyone on Mr. McClendon's paternal line, investigators started to focus on Mr. McClendon and his family, who was in the area, who had ties to Massachusetts. The majority of his family were interviewed. They had never been to Massachusetts. In fact they resided in Alabama," Strasnick told the court.
She said they were also able to determine the killer was left-handed and that the DNA strain of McClendon's showed that only one of them, Marvin McClendon, is left-handed as well.
Last month, Essex D.A. Jonathan Blodgett said McClendon had been a person of interest in the case "for some time." McClendon lived in Chelmsford in 1988 and investigators said he had multiple ties to Lawrence. The prosecutor said he also owned a van that was similar to one witnesses saw in the area around the time of the murder.
"I was 10 years old when this happened, so you image the person in your head and what they could possibly look like and who they could be and then you look and you see it's a frail, old man," Tremblay's friend Sherry Carignan told reporters outside court.
There's still no word yet on a motive for the killing.
"I want to know why this happened, how did cross his path, what's his motive," said Andrea Ganley, a friend of Tremblay's. "You took the life of an 11-year-old girl, and then went on another 33 years walking free. And where was she? In a grave."
It's not clear yet if McClendon knew Tremblay or her family. He's due back in court June 17.
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