More DNA testing approved in Sarah Cherry murder case as Dechaine seeks new trial

Dennis Dechaine (from left) walks out of a meeting with famed defense attorney F. Lee Bailey at the Maine State Prison in Warren in 2009.
Dennis Dechaine (from left) walks out of a meeting with famed defense attorney F. Lee Bailey at the Maine State Prison in Warren in 2009.
Posted Jan. 25, 2013, at 4:09 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — More DNA testing in convicted murderer Dennis Dechaine’s bid for a new trial was approved Thursday by the State Attorney General’s Office and a superior court justice who has presided over the case for 23 years.

Steven Peterson, Dechaine’s defense attorney, said Friday that Superior Court Justice Carl O. Bradbord agreed during a telephone conference Thursday to continue testing on evidence from the 1988 murder of 11-year-old Sarah Cherry. Specifically, according to Peterson, tests will be conducted on the shirt that was worn by Cherry when she was kidnapped, tortured and killed in the town of Bowdoin.

In recent months, new methods of DNA testing have been used on some of Cherry’s clothing, which Peterson said could implicate an alternative suspect in the case, though neither Peterson nor Assistant Attorney General William Stokes would discuss who that person is. Peterson said the further testing, which involves more DNA analysis as well as the computerized evaluation of that data, including comparisons to DNA databases, is an attempt to home in on whom the DNA on the evidence belongs to. DNA testing in the case in recent years has revealed adult male DNA under Cherry’s fingernails that did not come from Dechaine. The testing has now shifted to Cherry’s clothing.

“This is about fully exhausting our options,” said Peterson.

Stokes, who has been handling the case through the past 15 years of appeals and legal maneuvering, said Thursday that he did not object to the new testing, but would not comment on whether this or prior analysis would constitute any major breakthrough in the case. Stokes and others in the legal and law enforcement communities have long maintained that they believe Dechaine is guilty based on considerable evidence against him.

That evidence includes paperwork that belonged to Dechaine that was found in the driveway where Cherry was babysitting; rope used to bind Cherry that was linked to rope in Dechaine’s truck and barn; the fact that on the day of Cherry’s disappearance, Dechaine emerged from the wooded area where Cherry was eventually found, claiming he was lost; and contradicting statements Dechaine made to police about what he had been doing. Those statements allegedly included a confession, though Dechaine disputes that.

“We’re not really driving the bus here,” said Stokes. “The defense is really driving the bus in terms of what testing it wants.”

Peterson said the defense is paying for the testing, and that the new analysis could likely take a couple of months. After that, Peterson said the case would appear again in court to determine the defense’s next steps.

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