BANGOR, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Thirty years ago July 7, Charlie Howard was thrown off the State Street bridge in downtown Bangor. He didn't know how to swim and suffered an asthma attack and died. The murder was motivated because of Howard's sexuality.
Police quickly determined three local teenagers were at fault for the 23-year-old's death. Daniel Ness, Shawn Mabry and James Francis Baines had spent the day drinking. It was River City Festival that weekend, celebrating 150 years of Bangor. The investigation revealed the boys got into a fight with Howard, kicked him, and then threw him over the bridge into the stream. Officials found Howard dead more than an hour later.
Many credit the crime as a major turning point in Maine for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. NEWS CENTER's Don Carrigan was a reporter and anchor at WLBZ-TV when the murder occurred. A year later he became the station's news director. He covered Howard's death and the trial that followed.
"It was pivotal, but took time to get laws changed, but more importantly, attitudes changed," said Carrigan.
He said the River City Festival had gone well and the city was in a good mood, but the crime instantly changed everyone's attitude.
"This took all the happiness away and put Bangor in a very bad light. A lot of people were embarrassed and angry about it," he said.
There was more outrage when the three teens were tried as juveniles and not adults. They all served time in a juvenile facility until the age of 21.
"Gradually over time it led to more discussion about gay rights...Shame on us in the journalism world for not paying more attention to the topic," said Carrigan.
Carrigan said many gay people in the 1980s were in the closet because they would have lost their jobs or faced social persecution in Bangor. Slowly, gay people were able to be active members of the community.
"It's a shame this young man had to die to get this movement started," said Carrigan.
Maine established domestic partnerships for same-sex couples in April 2004. On May 6, 2009, former Governor Baldacci signed a bill that allowed same-sex marriage in Maine. He was the first governor to sign a same-sex marriage law. That law was later repealed from a referendum. But then in 2012, another referendum approved same-sex marriage.