Human Rights | Anti-Capital Punishment

A bloody chain saw merits border welcome

June 8, 2005

BOSTON (AP) -- Gregory Despres arrived at the U.S.-Canadian border crossing at Calais, Maine, on April 25 carrying a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chain saw stained with what appeared to be blood. U.S. customs agents confiscated the weapons and fingerprinted Despres.
    Then they let him into the United States.
    The next day, a gruesome scene was discovered in Despres' hometown of Minto, New Brunswick: The decapitated body of a 74-year-old country musician named Frederick Fulton was found on his kitchen floor. The man's head was in a pillow case under the kitchen table. His common-law wife was found fatally stabbed in a bedroom.
    Despres, 22, immediately became a suspect because of a history of violence against his neighbors. He was arrested April 27 after police in Massachusetts saw him wandering down a highway in a sweatshirt with red and brown stains. He is now in jail in Massachusetts on murder charges, awaiting an extradition hearing next month.
    How could a man toting what appeared to be a bloody chain saw be allowed into the country?
    Bill Anthony, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the Canadian-born man could not be detained because he is a naturalized U.S. citizen and was not wanted on any criminal charges on the day in question.
    Mr. Anthony said Despres was questioned for two hours before being released.
    During that time, he said, customs agents employed "every conceivable method" to check for warrants and determine whether Despres had broken any laws in trying to re-enter the country.
    "Nobody asked us to detain him," Mr. Anthony said. "Being bizarre is not a reason to keep somebody out of this country or lock them up."
    Mr. Anthony conceded that it "sounds stupid" that a man wielding what appeared to be a bloody chain saw could not be detained. But he added: "Our people don't have a crime lab up there. They can't look at a chain saw and decide if it's blood or rust or red paint."
    On the same day Despres crossed the border, he was supposed to be in a Canadian court for sentencing on convictions of assaulting and threatening to kill Mr. Fulton's son-in-law, Frederick Mowat, in August.
    Mr. Mowat told police that Despres had been bothering his father-in-law for the past month. When Mr. Mowat confronted him, Despres purportedly pulled a knife, pointed it at Mr. Mowat's chest and said he was "going to get you all."
    Police think the dispute between the neighbors boiled over in the early morning hours of April 24. They charge that Despres broke into Mr. Fulton's home and killed him and 70-year-old Veronica Decarie.
    Mr. Fulton's daughter found her father's body two days later. His car was later found in a gravel pit on a highway leading to the U.S. border. Despres apparently hitchhiked to the border crossing.
    In state court the next day, Despres told a judge he was affiliated with NASA and on his way to a Marine Corps base in Kansas when arrested.
    After the case was transferred to federal court, Despres' attorney, Michael Andrews, questioned whether his client is mentally competent.