ROCKLAND, Maine — Dennis Dechaine, who is serving a life sentence for the kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry in Bowdoin in 1988, will not have his first court appearance Monday as planned for a new drug crime.
Dechaine, 52, was indicted last July by the Knox County grand jury on a charge of trafficking in prison contraband. A hearing on the drug charge that had been scheduled for Monday, May 2, in Knox County Superior Court has since been postponed. It was not clear Friday when and where the hearing would be rescheduled.
Dechaine’s attorney, Steve Peterson of Rockport, also indicated Friday that new DNA tests of crime-scene evidence are being conducted in a pending bid to get a retrial on the murder case.
According to Peterson, the judge initially assigned to the contraband-trafficking case recused himself and a new one had to be found.
“It was assigned to another judge because of potential conflicts of interest,” Peterson said Friday. “There are so many judges who are familiar with his underlying case.”
Dechaine was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland on April 5 for a drop in blood pressure and a high heart rate. The indictment alleges that on that day Dechaine was found in possession of the painkiller morphine and-or the anti-anxiety drug Klonopin, according to Knox County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau.
Dechaine was in the Portland hospital for more than two weeks. At the time, Dechaine told the Portland Press Herald that he was hospitalized after he tried to kill himself by overdosing on prescription drugs.
Dechaine, a former Bowdoinham farmer who has served the last 22 years in the Maine State Prison for murdering Cherry, maintains that he is innocent. He and his attorney are pressing for a new trial based on DNA evidence.
Dechaine’s four previous appeals were rejected.
Cherry was kidnapped, stabbed and strangled in the woods of Bowdoin on July 6, 1988, and Dechaine was found wandering in the woods nearby. His truck was found 450 feet from where her body was found, and rope inside in the truck matched rope that bound her wrists.
Dechaine was convicted of Cherry’s murder in Knox County Superior Court in March 1989.
Peterson also indicated Friday that new DNA tests of crime-scene evidence are now being conducted. He has received preliminary results, but could not share them Friday, by order of the court.
“They’re doing a new kind of testing than they had done before. We are using newer techniques to retest items that had been tested earlier,” Peterson said.
It will likely be several months before Dechaine’s next hearing on his appeal, Peterson said. By that time, the DNA testing will be done and reports from the tests will be filed, according to the attorney.
If Dechaine is guilty of the new drug charge, he will face up to five more years in prison. Peterson has previously stated that the drug case would not affect the bid for a retrial in the murder case.