I wasn’t going to write about convicted murderer Dennis Dechaine’s hearing that took place in Cumberland County this week.
I wasn’t, that is, until my mother-in-law came to visit.
When the news report of the hearing was aired during a 6 p.m. broadcast, my mother-in-law said, “I think he’s innocent.”
Probably there are others who feel that way, as well, if what you hear is that there is another, unidentified man’s DNA under the victim’s fingernail.
I mean, DNA is powerful stuff. It convicts people and exonerates them.
If Dechaine’s DNA was not found on the body of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry and some other man’s was, then Dechaine probably is innocent after all, right?
Dechaine, 54, is serving a life sentence for the 1988 kidnapping and brutal slaying of Cherry in Bowdoin.
His conviction in 1989 has been appealed on four different occasions. In each case his conviction has been upheld.
His supporters sought and received help from the famed New York-based Innocence Project and renowned attorney F. Lee Bailey. The case underwent an independent review by a panel made up of two criminal defense lawyers and a retired federal magistrate. That panel reviewed the case in response to allegations from Dechaine’s supporters of investigative and prosecutorial misconduct.
The panel found nothing to support those allegations.
Dechaine’s attorney is now before a judge trying to convince him that the jury in the 1989 trial would not have convicted his client if it had been presented the DNA evidence. The state contends that the DNA may simply have been a contamination, since methodical evidence gathering systems were not nearly as sterile and thorough as the methods used today.
Either way, the sample exists and it does not belong to Dechaine, Cherry’s immediate family members or staff members who worked for the medical examiner’s office in 1988.
Think what you will regarding that sample, but as I did for my mother-in-law, let me just remind you of the other evidence in the Dechaine case.
Cherry was kidnapped from the home where she was babysitting and her body was found a couple of days later in the woods in Bowdoin, She had been sexually assaulted with sticks, bound and gagged and stabbed repeatedly.
Coincidentally, Dechaine was wandering aimlessly in those same woods that day. He went into the woods to inject some sort of “speed” that he purchased randomly from a drug dealer at a Boston museum.
At some point he locked his truck, put his keys in his pocket and headed down a woods road and got lost.
By the time he wandered out of the woods at 8:45 p.m. police were already searching for Cherry. Dechaine had wandered into someone’s yard and said he had lost his way. Police were in the area and eventually picked him up to help him locate his truck.
They had already found a notebook and a receipt belonging to Dechaine in the driveway of the home from which Cherry was abducted.
Dechaine’s truck was located just 450 feet from where Cherry’s body was eventually found.
When he was in the cruiser and they were searching for his truck, Dechaine told the officer he didn’t have the keys to his truck and that he had left them in the vehicle. Actually, he did have his truck keys and hid them beneath the seat in the cruiser. Police found them the next day.
Why did he want the police to believe that he didn’t have his keys?
The rope that was used to bind Cherry was cut from rope that Dechaine carried in his truck. The scarf used to gag her belonged to Dechaine.
Dechaine and his supporters claim that some very fortunate sexually depraved killer just stumbled across Dechaine’s truck and all of the items he needed to aid him in his brutal quest and then also grabbed some documents from Dechaine’s truck and purposely deposited them in the driveway of the home from which Cherry was abducted.
Oh, and then there were the remarks that Dechaine allegedly made to two investigators and two corrections officers.
These remarks were taken from Dechaine’s supporters’ website, “Trial and Error.”
“Oh my God, it should never have happened. … Why did I do this?”
“I went home and told my wife that I did something bad and she just laughed at me.”
“I told her [my wife] I wouldn’t kill myself; besides that’s the easy way out.”
“Please believe me, something inside must have made me do that. Why would I do this?”
“I didn’t think it actually happened till I saw her face on the news, … then it all came back to me. I remembered it. Why did I kill her? … What punishment could they ever give me that would be equal to what I’ve done.”
“I feel so bad for her. My God, how must her mother and father feel. It was something inside that must have made me do that.”
“How can I live with myself again?”
Cherry was missing for a couple of days before her body was found and a couple of days after Dechaine was picked up in the very woods where it was.
He was a prime suspect in the case and police were following him.
Dechaine went to visit his attorney during that time.
Investigators at the time said they were concerned that Cherry might be alive and injured somewhere.
Those investigators called Dechaine’s attorney, whom they knew.
They asked the attorney two questions and reminded him that he didn’t have to answer them.
Could Sarah still be alive? They asked.
Are we looking in the right area?
Dechaine’s attorney told them the girl was dead and that they were in the right area.
Cherry’s body was found later that day.
Form your own opinion on any new potential evidence as you will, but don’t forget the original evidence that the jury heard in 1989.