PORTLAND, Maine — Convicted murderer Anthony Sanborn finally walked out of a courthouse a free man Wednesday afternoon, after spending more than a quarter century behind bars for the brutal 1989 murder of 16-year-old Jessica Briggs.
After weeks of hearings in Sanborn’s legal push to clear his name of the crime, the 45-year-old was released on time served as part of a deal with state prosecutors.
The suddenly struck deal does not overturn Sanborn’s conviction, but releases him on time served — the equivalent of 42 years, 3 months and nine days, which is the time Sanborn actually spent in prison plus additional time for good behavior.
A judge released Sanborn on bail in April after the woman who originally testified that she’d seen him kill Briggs recanted. Hope Cady told a shocked courtroom that she’d been nowhere near the murder scene, was legally blind at the time and had been coerced into testifying by Portland police and a prosecutor.
In front of the Portland police station Wednesday, one of Sanborn’s lawyers read a statement from his client, who has never stopped maintaining that he did not kill Briggs.
“I am innocent and God knows the truth,” Timothy Zerillo of Portland read. “I respect what Judge Wheeler did for me. I think Judge Wheeler has a lot of courage and integrity to do what she did. There is only one judge who can judge me and that is God and I will be judged to be innocent when my time comes.”
In accepting the deal, Sanborn wanted “to get back to living a normal life,” Zerillo said outside the courthouse after the judge accepted the deal.
Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam said the sentence was consistent with state law for juveniles sentenced in murder cases.
“We have always maintained and continued to maintain the jury delivered a just and fair verdict,” the prosecutor told reporters outside the courtroom. “We believe this is a just outcome for all involved but most importantly for Jessica Briggs and her family.”
In the agreement, the state conceded that Sanborn’s original sentence of 70 years in prison “constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution.” For his part, Sanborn withdrew his request for a post-conviction review as well as a separate request for a new analysis of DNA evidence in the case.
Sanborn was 16 years old when Briggs was killed. The two had dated.
Earlier this year, Portland defense attorney Amy Fairfield began building a case to support Sanborn’s claim of innocence, which he maintained while incarcerated at Maine State 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 Cady recanted her testimony that she’d seen Sanborn kill Briggs.
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 denied.
Cady on Tuesday again said that she had lied at Sanborn’s trial.
Follow Jake Bleiberg at @JZBleiberg.
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