Maine Police End Church Arsenic Investigation

Nearly three years ago, someone slipped arsenic into coffee at a church in northern Maine, killing one parishioner and sickening 15 others. Days later, a church member took responsibility in a suicide note.

State police had since contended that Daniel Bondeson might have had an accomplice when he poisoned the coffee at Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in this small farming community.

That changed Tuesday when investigators said they learned additional information about the case during grand jury proceedings last year that changed their minds. They now say Bondeson acted alone.

"There should be a sense of relief. There certainly is on my part," said Ed Margeson, president of the church council, whose son drank the tainted coffee and became ill. "Hopefully this will put it to rest."

Though the investigators did not specify what information they learned, a lawyer who testified before the grand jury said Tuesday that Bondeson told him the day before he killed himself that he acted alone.

Investigators said the approaching April 27 anniversary seemed like the appropriate time to publicly announce the probe was closed.

Lawyer Peter Kelley had long sought to inform police about what Bondeson had told him on May 1, 2003, but was constrained by attorney-client privilege that remained in force even after his 53-year-old client's death.

A judge eventually relieved him of his attorney-client privilege and ordered him to testify before a grand jury. Kelley broke his silence Tuesday after learning that the investigation was over.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Kelley said Bondeson told him that he mixed the liquid contents from a five-gallon can from his farm into the coffee urn.

Kelley said Bondeson told him he acted in retaliation because he felt that church members did not like him and that someone had once put "chemicals" into his coffee, giving him a bout of stomach discomfort.

But Bondeson also told him he did not know the container contained arsenic, and that he didn't intend serious harm, the lawyer said.

"He did not indicate that anyone else was involved and my distinct impression was that he had done this on his own," Kelley added.

The day after talking to Kelley, Bondeson died from a single gunshot wound to the chest. The state medical examiner ruled that it was suicide.

Investigators never released Bondeson's suicide note, which is confidential under Maine law. State officials previously rejected a Freedom of Access request to release its contents. They declined to talk about the note's contents on Tuesday.