AUGUSTA, Maine — A Knox County lawmaker asked Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey on Monday to punish the state’s top homicide prosecutor over an incorrect statement about a high-profile murder case she made to a legislative panel in 2017.
The complaint against Lisa Marchese, who was named chief of the criminal division in 2014 by Gov. Janet Mills when she was attorney general, centers around Anthony Sanborn, who was freed in November 2017 after 25 years in prison for a murder he says he did not commit.
Frey spokesman Marc Malon said the office is reviewing the complaint from Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, under a standard public complaint policy and responded to questions posed to Marchese and Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber by saying it would be “inappropriate for anyone in this office to comment at this time.”
Evangelos accuses Marchese of incorrectly characterizing to the committee the state’s position on whether Sanborn should be eligible for bail.
The effect of Marchese’s statement to the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee is unclear: It came on the same day Sanborn had been released on bail and just before the panel voted unanimously to kill a bill Mills’ office opposed that would have required an evidentiary hearing for people who say they are innocent of a crime of which they were convicted.
Sanborn was convicted of the 1989 murder of 16-year-old Jessica Briggs along the Portland waterfront, but he was released on $25,000 bail in April 2017 after a key witness in his 1992 trial recanted and said she had been pressured to testify by Portland detectives and a prosecutor.
At that hearing, Macomber asked the judge to “defer ruling” on a bail motion until the former detectives and prosecutor could testify under oath, according to a transcript. Amy Fairfield, Sanborn’s lawyer, retorted that she had already provided Macomber with affidavits of more recanting witnesses allegedly pressured by the same detectives.
Fairfield said keeping Sanborn in jail “for one second longer just perpetuates this miscarriage of justice.” Justice Joyce Wheeler sided with Sanborn, setting bail for him just before noon. In the afternoon with Mills in the hearing room, Marchese referenced the case wrongly telling the legislative committee the state “asked for bail” in the Sanborn case.
Evangelos said in a Monday email to Frey that the statement was a lie and “an extremely serious offense” and asked the Democratic attorney general to suspend or fire Marchese. Evangelos is a progressive who is sponsoring a bill identical to the one rejected in 2017.
Sanborn raised the issue during Mills’ gubernatorial campaign in 2018, writing a letter to the editor in the Portland Press Herald last June saying he questioned the Democrat’s “ethics and ability to lead our state with any semblance of integrity.”
Representatives for Mills did not respond to a Tuesday request for comment.