LAWRENCE — A former Massachusetts correction officer was ordered held without bail Friday after his arraignment for allegedly stabbing 11-year-old Melissa Tremblay to death in Lawrence in 1988.
Marvin “Skip” McClendon Jr., 74, of Bremen, Ala., appeared in Lawrence District Court, where a not-guilty plea was entered for him on a charge of murder in connection with the September 1988 slaying.
McClendon wore a plaid shirt and remained silent, looking intently at the judge and prosecutor as they spoke during the proceedings.
A probable cause hearing in the case is slated for June 17.
Jessica Strasnick, chief Essex County homicide prosecutor, said the state crime lab was able to generate a DNA profile from Tremblay’s body that was later linked to McClendon. She explained that the profile was not an exact match, but “essentially would be the same for anyone on the paternal line … so all males in that family.”
“DNA samples were taken from the defendant before you, Marvin McClendon, whose DNA profile was consistent with the DNA profile that was found on Melissa Tremblay,” she said. “But understanding that it could have been any one of Mr. McClendon’s paternal line, investigators started to focus on Mr. McClendon ... who was in the area [and] who had ties to Massachusetts. The majority of his family were interviewed — they had never been to Massachusetts. In fact, they resided in Alabama.”
But McClendon’s attorney, Charles Henry Fasoldt, said in court that it “seems equally plausible” that another male McClendon’s DNA could have been found on the girl’s body.
Strasnick said other evidence also linked McClendon to Tremblay’s murder.
“Investigators spoke to the defendant on various occasions,” Strasnick said in court. “During that time, he provided information to investigators that was never made public about the event.”
Strasnick added that witnesses saw Tremblay talking to someone in a van the day she was last seen alive; McClendon had a van and was living in Chelmsford at that time. She said investigators also determined from Tremblay’s neck wound that her killer was likely left-handed — and McClendon is left-handed.
Fasoldt, however, argued his client’s dominant hand shouldn’t tie him to the crime.
“Regarding the left-handed nature of the wound,” he said, “most people have two hands, and most people can use both.”
Tremblay was last seen alive on Sept. 11, 1988. The girl’s stabbed and mangled body was discovered a day later in a railway yard in Lawrence. For more than three decades the gruesome murder remained unsolved.
Authorities have said previously that McClendon wasn’t working as a correction officer at the time of Tremblay’s murder, but he had worked three separate stints with the state Department of Correction between 1970 and 2002.
State comptroller records show McClendon retired from state service on July 4, 2002, and collects a monthly pension of $3,040.
McClendon was arrested April 26 at his Alabama home.
Andrea Ganley, a New Hampshire resident who was a friend of Tremblay’s, told reporters outside the courthouse Friday that she always hoped to see her friend’s killer brought to justice.
“It was hard to describe. A lot of anger ... a lot of anger,” Ganley told reporters, describing the emotions that welled up in her when she saw McClendon in the courtroom. “A lot of sadness.”
Ganley said Tremblay was a funny, feisty 11-year-old with a bubbly personality. As a kid growing up in the ‘80s, she was a fan of pop music and stars like Wham! and Madonna, Ganley said.
“I looked up to her,” she said. “She was my friend.”
Ganley said she still has many questions about what happened on that September day.
“I want to know why this happened. How did she cross his path? What’s his motive?” Ganley said. “I want him to confess. I want a full confession. I want to know why.”
Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett told reporters last month that police learned Tremblay had accompanied her mother and her mother’s boyfriend to a Lawrence social club the day she disappeared, and that she played in the adjacent neighborhoods while the two adults remained inside the bar.
A neighbor who lived next door to the bar told reporters at the time that Melissa Tremblay often played with her children and that they had been breaking bottles on the afternoon the girl disappeared. Tremblay was last seen by a railroad employee and pizza delivery driver, Blodgett said.
The child and her mother, Janet Tremblay, lived in Salem, N.H., at the time. The mother died in 2015 at age 70. According to her obituary posted to the website of the Goundrey & Dewhirst Funeral Home in Salem, Janet Tremblay was “a loving mother to her adopted daughter Melissa Ann Tremblay.”
“Melissa has never been forgotten,” Blodgett said, adding that her family is “very relieved and very happy that the police involved in this matter never gave up their pursuit of justice for Melissa.”
Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report and material from prior Globe stories was used in it.