Judge denies Dennis Dechaine’s request for new murder trial

Dennis Dechaine, who is serving a life sentence in Maine State Prison for the 1988 murder of Sarah Cherry in Bowdoin, appears in Cumberland County Superior Court in this November 2013 file photo.
Christopher Cousins | BDN
Dennis Dechaine, who is serving a life sentence in Maine State Prison for the 1988 murder of Sarah Cherry in Bowdoin, appears in Cumberland County Superior Court in this November 2013 file photo.
Posted April 10, 2014, at 5:18 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Dennis Dechaine, who has served 25 years of a life sentence for the murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry of Bowdoin, has lost his latest bid for a new trial.

In a ruling filed Thursday in Knox County Superior Court, Maine Superior Court Justice Carl Bradford said that after considering all the evidence in the case — both old and new — he could not conclude that the former Bowdoinham farmer would have received a different verdict. Bradford denied Dechaine’s request for a new trial.

A hearing had been held in November on what Dechaine’s defense had argued was a new DNA analysis. At that hearing, Dechaine expressed doubt that Bradford would rule in his favor.

“I think he made up his mind about this case in 1988, and nothing will change it,” Dechaine said at the time.

Defense attorney Steven Peterson said Thursday that he was still reviewing the judge’s order, but he would seek permission from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to appeal Bradford’s ruling. Because of the significance of this case, Peterson said he expected that the court would hear the appeal.

Bradford, who is retired but continues to oversee this case, also denied the defense’s request that he recuse himself from deciding on motions in the Dechaine case.

“The fact that a judge ruled against a party in the past does not support a motion for recusal,” the judge stated.

In the decision released Thursday, Bradford ruled that Dechaine’s defense team failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a different verdict would result if Dechaine received a new trial.

The judge pointed out that throughout the lengthy history of the case, the defense had sought to introduce evidence it maintains links another man to the murder. A private investigator hired by Dechaine’s supporters went to Florida and secretly acquired the man’s DNA from a coffee cup.

The Bangor Daily News is not naming the other man because he has not been charged.

“Even giving the defendant the benefit of the doubt that the DNA on the coffee cup was in fact [the other man’s] DNA, none of the new DNA evidence implicates [the other man],” Bradford said.

The defense also had failed to connect DNA under Cherry’s fingernails to her murderer. There was no evidence of a struggle between Cherry and her attacker, and none of her fingernails were broken, the judge stated in his order.

Bradford also agreed with prosecution witnesses from November’s hearing that the conditions in the morgue where Cherry’s autopsy was performed were ripe for contamination of DNA samples, and the fingernail samples from Cherry were contaminated.

The presiding judge also said that the evidence of Dechaine’s guilt was substantial. Items from Dechaine’s truck were found at the house where Cherry was babysitting and abducted. Samples of rope used to tie her hands were consistent with rope found in Dechaine’s truck and matched rope found in the woods between his truck and where Cherry’s body was found.

Dechaine was also found walking out of the woods, on the day Cherry went missing, near where her body was later found. Cherry’s body had multiple small stab wounds, and Dechaine’s wife commented how she was surprised that his penknife was missing from his key chain, the judge pointed out.

Multiple people testified that Dechaine later confessed to the murder.

Finally, Bradford said nobody could corroborate Dechaine’s alibi that he was using drugs and walking around in the woods during the time of the murder.

Cherry was kidnapped July 6, 1988, from a home where she was babysitting. A search began for Cherry after the parents of the baby came home and could not find the 12-year-old. Her body was found two days later in the woods. An autopsy determined she had been sexually assaulted, stabbed many times and strangled.

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