PORTLAND, Maine — The lawyer who prosecuted Anthony Sanborn for murder said Friday that there were elements of the case that could have been more fully investigated, but that she didn’t expect police to bring her a report on every person they interviewed while probing the killing of a teenage girl in 1989.
Former assistant attorney general Pamela Ames acknowledged in testimony that police and prosecutors “could a have done a better job investigating” some things that emerged during the trial that ended with Sanborn’s 1992 murder conviction. But she resisted claims by Sanborn’s new lawyer that there was material that the prosecutors should have turned over to his original defense team but didn’t.
Ames, who is now a private criminal defense lawyer, testified at the end of the second week of a hearing on Sanborn’s push to clear his name of the murder of his ex-girlfriend, 16-year-old Jessica Briggs. The former prosecutor took the stand after two key witnesses recanted, saying that she and Portland police coerced them to testify against Sanborn.
Ames, another prosecutor and two former police detectives have denied that, as well as defense attorney Amy Fairfield’s claims that they suppressed vital evidence and failed to seriously pursue suspects other than Sanborn. But on Friday Ames said that she and other officials did review a number of weaknesses with their case that came out during the trial.
Among the issues discussed by police and prosecutors at a meeting after a jury convicted Sanborn in 1992, was the fact that they didn’t have an alibi for Scott Knoll, whom defense attorneys sought to identify as an alternate suspect.
Fairfield described the meeting’s purpose as “pinpointing the problems that plagued the state’s case,” but Ames cast it as a review of how a successful prosecution might have been strengthened.
“These were things that came out at trial that we could a have done a better job investigating,” Ames said of a list she’d written during the meeting.
Over the past two weeks of the hearing, Fairfield has questioned the police detectives who investigated Brigg’s murder about why certain documents, including their hand-written notes, weren’t turned over to Sanborn’s lawyers in the early 1990s.
Ames said Friday that she’d never been given any of the detective’s hand-written notes and that prosecutors rely on police “to have a filter about what is really relevant to the case.” As the former police officers did, she denied having held back any material that should have been turned over as exculpatory evidence.
“If a police officer would write a report about every single person he came into contact with in this case, it would be overwhelming,” Ames said.
On a couple of occasions during her morning testimony, Ames said she was unable to recall the details from the nearly 30-year old murder trial. Fairfield contrasted her trouble calling up some answers with the former-prosecutor’s statements to media organizations in the spring that she knew Sanborn’s case “backward, forward and inside out” and remained convinced of his guilt.
The Friday hearing ended abruptly after a lunch break. A court marshal said the afternoon session was cancelled due to “attorney illness.”
Ames is expected to give further testimony, but the hearing will pick up on Monday with a former FBI agent, Gregg McCrary, taking the stand as an expert witness for Sanborn’s defense team.
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