New trial denied for Dechaine

Evidence would not support a different verdict in new trial, says judge
By Juliette Laaka | Apr 11, 2014

Rockland — Dennis Dechaine, the Maine State Prison inmate serving a lifetime sentence for killing a 12-year-old girl in 1988, has lost a bid for a new trial.

Dechaine, 55, filed a new trial motion in 2008. Dechaine was convicted in 1989 of murder, kidnapping and gross sexual misconduct for the killing of Sarah Cherry of Bowdoin. He has maintained his innocence since his conviction.

Justice Carl O. Bradford denied the new trial motion April 9 in Knox County Superior Court, saying new DNA evidence does not support an alternative suspect theory, and the outcome of a new trial would not exonerate Dechaine based on the evidence presented.

The court concluded Dechaine failed to show with convincing evidence that only the perpetrator of the crimes could be the source of the DNA found under Cherry's fingernails.

Bradford also noted the substantial amount of evidence against Dechaine spanning the 25 years since the murder, including his confessions to police, and his uncorroborated alibi.

Dechaine is represented by Rockport attorney Steven Peterson.

Before the 1988 trial, Dechaine's defense sought to have the DNA under Cherry's fingernails sent to a lab in California to determine if blood from another person was found under her nails. A forensic chemist from the Maine State Police Crime lab tested Cherry's nails and found Type A blood, which was Cherry's blood type. If there had been a mix of tissue, say from scratching, the chemist said she would have evidence of it. A representative at the California lab said the limited amount of blood would be difficult to test and get good results from.

The defense argued there was a struggle between Cherry and her killer, and that their DNA would be found under her nails as a result, but there is no evidence to support that claim, according to the state, said court documents.

The court, in 1988, ruled against the further testing as it was a remote chance the blood would be from somebody else, said court documents.

In 2008, Dechaine requested clothing items of Cherry's be tested for DNA, including the bra, scarf, shirt and bandana she was wearing when killed. The court allowed the additional testing in 2011 and hearings were scheduled to discuss the results.

In 1993 and 1994, Dr. David Bing of CBR labs performed the first DNA analysis of Cherry's fingernail clippings. It was confirmed there were two donors present, and Dechaine could be excluded as a donor. His test was confirmed by a forensic DNA analyst from the Maine State Police Crime Labratory, said court documents.

Forensic analysts were not able to conclude what the DNA found under Cherry's nails was, whether it be skin, blood or saliva. It was confirmed the DNA did belong to a male, said court papers.

The state, during the 2012 and 2013 hearings, focused on possible contamination of the evidence. A forensic medical technician present at Cherry's autopsy testified concerning the conditions of the morgue and the procedures used for autopsies at the time.

The medical technician said nail clippers were used repeatedly, and although they may have been washed or disinfected, they were not sterilized. Nobody wore masks, and some used gloves throughout the examination, while others wore gloves only during the actual autopsy. He also testified he was surprised by the unsanitary practices used in the examination room, including dirty, bloody towels used for tools being changed every five to six months, according to testimony.

The toolbox, used to hold tools used during autopsies, could have been contaminated, and affect the results, such as male DNA found on Cherry's nails from contamination, according to testimony.

Even sneezing, talking, or coughing over the sample could contaminate evidence, according to testimony.

Alternative suspect DNA

The defense's alternative suspect would not voluntarily provide his own DNA sample. He is not named as he has not been changed with a crime in connection to the case.

Supporters of Dechaine hired a private investigator to get a sample of the alternative suspect's DNA. The investigator took a fork, napkin and coffee cup from a restaurant in Florida after the alternative suspect finished lunch. The DNA profile did not match the profile under Cherry's nails, said court papers.

A mixture of two male DNA profiles was found on Cherry's shirt and scarf. The results from her bra were inconclusive. The profiles from the  samples were compared to a known sample of Dechaine's DNA, and he could not be excluded as the source of the DNA on the shirt or scarf, said court documents.

The alternative suspect's DNA was tested against the newly tested items, and could not be excluded from the scarf but was excluded as a donor for the DNA on Cherry's shirt, said court papers.

Regarding the shirt sample, Dr. Rick Staub, the forensics laboratory director at Cellmark Forensics, testified 1 in 347 white males have DNA consistent with the DNA in the sample on the shirt, and 1 in 35 with the scarf sample.

The defense argues there would have been a struggle between Cherry and the assailant, but evidence of a struggle is not present, said court papers. DNA could have been deposited under her nail prior to her death that is unrelated to her murder, said court papers.

Dechaine could appeal the ruling to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext 118 or via email at jlaaka@courierpublicationsllc.com.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Shirley Tabbutt | Apr 14, 2014 10:47

I remember seeing this story when it first came on the news so many years ago. I said to my husband ,whom was also watching, that "this man didn't do it". Call it a "gut feeling" or whatever. I don't know this man or the family of that poor little girl who lost her life for no reason. I 've have followed all the news stories on this mans story, But I still believe that Mr. Dechaine in innocent.

I think the police failed to do a thorough investigation in the beginning. And of course the Justice System certainly wouldn't want to be found wrong. Though it does happen. I believe there are a lot of people whom were found guilty of things they didn't do. I do know "they all" say they didn't do it.

Good Luck to you Denise Dechaine



Posted by: Bill Halpin | Apr 13, 2014 10:03

This case, the more I read, seems to be uncertainty itself.

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next.
Delicious Ambiguity.”
Gilda Radner



Posted by: Jim Smith | Apr 12, 2014 13:05

PLEASE LET THE FAMILY GET ON WITH THEIR LIVES.I HOPE THIS IS THE LAST WE HERE FROM DECHAINE.



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Juliette Laaka
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Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.

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