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'We can prevent this' | Daughters of murdered Turner couple testify in support of proposed law

Following the February 2021 murders, Maine Sen. Jeff Timberlake is sponsoring a bill to try to bolster mental health training for police officers.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The daughters of Troy and Dulsie Varney testified before state lawmakers Thursday, just less than a year after their parents were brutally murdered in Turner.

"That night runs through my mind each and every day," Audrey Varney told the Legislature's Judiciary Committee via Zoom.

The couple was stabbed to death inside their home last February by a man who was renting an apartment from them. 

Patrick Maher faces murder charges for allegedly breaking into the home in the middle of the night and stabbing the Varneys, according to court documents. He has pleaded not guilty. 

Shelby Varney said she was inside the house with her boyfriend at the time of the murders.

"I was awoken from screams from my mother and a gunshot from my father," she said.

The two sisters shared their story in support of a bill put forward by Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner. 

Timberlake said the murders could have been prevented if stronger laws were in place for mental health services and police training. 

"Troy and Dulsie Varney were pillars in our community," Timberlake said. "'If he kills somebody tonight, it's on you.' Those words still haunt me today spoken by Troy Varney."

Those words are what the family said Varney told police after they responded to a disturbance at the couple's apartment building just hours before the murders.

Timberlake and the daughters say police who responded to the scene claimed Maher, who was acting erratically, was not an immediate danger. 

They say he was in the midst of a mental health crisis. 

"I believe with more training for our officers and more awareness of signs and signals we can prevent these serious and life-threatening situations," Audrey Varney said.

Timberlake's bill, An Act to Provide Assistance to Law Enforcement Officers to Allow Them to Protect the Residents of the State, is meant to be a starting point to help enhance behavioral health services and provide better training to police responding to people in crisis. 

Timberlake said he hopes it allows lawmakers to build on a bill passed in June 2021 that changes the standard for police to take a person into protective custody if they are likely to pose serious harm, regardless of whether they are committing a crime.

"If police then were able to bring Patrick into custody the night before and he entered a cool-down period he may have never entered my home," Shelby Varney said. 

Maher is currently being held at the Androscoggin County Jail awaiting trial pending mental health evaluations.

If convicted, he could face 25 years to life in prison.