April 06, 2020
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AG’s office denies hiding evidence, coercing witness in decades-old murder case

Jake Bleiberg | BDN file
Jake Bleiberg | BDN file
Anthony Sanborn Jr. listens in a Portland courtroom as the key witness in his 1992 murder trial recants the testimony that helped send him to prison.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Attorney General’s Office has asked a judge to dismiss Anthony Sanborn’s claims that police and a state prosecutor acted improperly in pursuing the case that led to his 1992 murder conviction.

In the state’s first detailed response to the court challenge that, in April, saw Sanborn, 44, released on bail after decades behind bars, Assistant Attorney General Paul Rucha denied a number of allegations including that officials had suppressed evidence and coerced a key witness to testify in the trial over the 1989 murder of 16-year-old Jessica Briggs.

In a response filed Monday in Cumberland County Superior Court, Rucha argued that some of the material brought forward by Sanborn’s lawyer, Amy Fairfield, should be dismissed because it had long been known by her client. Other of Fairfield’s allegations lack crucial information that the state would need to prepare for a hearing scheduled to start in late July, the assistant attorney general wrote in 27-page filing.

Over the last few months Fairfield has built a case to support Sanborn’s claim of innocence, which he’s maintained over decades in prison. The legal push to win him a new trial or vacate his indictment and conviction led to an explosive April court hearing in which the woman who originally testified that she’d seen Sanborn kill Briggs recanted.

In fact, Hope Cady told a shocked courtroom she had not been at the Maine State Pier the night Briggs was killed there and had been legally blind at the time. Cady, who was 13 and under state supervision at the time of the slaying, said that two Portland police detectives and former assistant attorney general Pamela Ames had badgered and bullied her into testifying — a charge they have denied.

Fairfield has further alleged that state knew of Cady’s vision problems when she originally testified that she saw the murder. Rucha, however, contended that there are no documents in Cady’s confidential Department of Health and Human Services case files from before the killing that indicate that she had sight problems.

“To the extent that [Sanborn] is relying on confidential records that have only recently been disclosed, the [state] denies that there is documentary evidence contained within those records that demonstrate an issue with Cady’s ability to see at distance in 1989,” he wrote. “Similarly, the [state] denies that the prosecution or police had access to those records prior to 1992.”

Rucha claimed that Fairfield had contacted Cady before her April recantation and that unnamed people tied to the defense attorney had been “harassing” her.

Fairfield did not immediately respond to a request for comment but told the Portland Press Herald that Cady had not been harassed and that she’d reached out to the witness at the request of the court. Fairfield had called the other woman to explain the court process and arrange transportation between Portland and Cady’s home in Augusta, she reportedly said.

Sanborn’s post-conviction review hearing is scheduled to continue on July 24.


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