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Judge in Sanborn case refuses to recuse herself

BDN File | BDN
BDN File | BDN
Justice Joyce Wheeler listens to arguments in Cumberland County Superior Court, Oct. 30, 2013.
By Jake Bleiberg, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — A judge presiding over the review of Anthony Sanborn’s 1992 murder conviction has denied the state’s request that she recuse herself, according to the Portland Unified Criminal Court clerk’s office.

Last Friday, the Maine Attorney General’s Office requested that Justice Joyce Wheeler move off the Sanborn case because of comments she made during his earlier bail hearing that created the “perception by the public, including the victim and petitioner’s families, that Justice Wheeler had already decided in favor of Anthony Sanborn,” according to spokesman Attorney General Timothy Feeley.

Wheeler rejected the request Tuesday morning, issuing an oral decision during a conference with the parties to the case, a court clerk said.

In April, Wheeler ruled that Sanborn could be released on bail after the key witness in his trial for the 1989 murder of Jessica Briggs recanted her testimony and said she was legally blind at the time of the killing. In ruling Wheeler appeared concerned that the state had relied on the testimony of old Hope Cady, who was 13 years old at the time, and told Sanborn “this is only a bail hearing so I cannot apologize to you now.”

The attorney general’s office previously raised concerns that Wheeler’s statements might shake public confidence in her neutrality, but said Tuesday that prosecutors will accept the judge’s decision to remain on the case. “We accept her ruling and are prepared to move forward,” Feeley said.

Sanborn’s release after nearly three decades behind bars was opposed by state prosecutors, who were unprepared to call their own witnesses at the bail hearing.

During the hearing Cady testified that her original testimony was coached and coerced by former Portland police detectives James Daniels and Daniel Young and then-assistant attorney general Pamela Ames. All three have denied these charges. Ames, now a lawyer in private practice, said she remains “absolutely” convinced of Sanborn’s guilt.

Sanborn’s lawyer, Amy Fairfield, argued against the state’s recusal request in a written rebuttal filed with the Cumberland County Superior Court, according to the Portland Press Herald. Fairfield reportedly argued that Wheeler’s statements were taken out of context and were merely part of the evaluation of a case’s future chances that a judge is required to perform.

Wheeler also pushed back the next hearing in Sanborn’s case, moving it to July 24-26 and Aug. 1-4 from the originally scheduled May 24-26, according to a clerk.


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