PORTLAND, Maine — The state’s highest court rejected Tuesday another appeal by convicted murderer Dennis Dechaine, who sought a new trial for the 1988 torture and murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry.
This was the fourth time that Dechaine, 57, has gone before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to contest his conviction in which he was given a life sentence back in 1989.
The justices ruled Tuesday that Justice Carl Bradford, who presided over Dechaine’s trial and imposed the life sentence, did not abuse his discretion by refusing to recuse himself from hearing a request for a new trial. Bradford presided over the hearing in November 2013 and denied the request in April 2014. Dechaine appealed the denial of a new trial.
The high court also rejected Dechaine’s appeal of Bradford’s ruling, stating that even if DNA evidence had been available at the 1989 trial, it did not make it probable that a different verdict would have been rendered by the jury.
“We’re thrilled,” said Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber, who argued the matter before the high court. “The evidence of Dechaine’s guilt was exhaustive. I hope this is one of the final chapters.”
Dechaine’s defense attorney, Steven Peterson, said the rejection of the appeal still leaves some avenues for Dechaine. He said that the next step would be to file a post-conviction review or a federal appeal based on the time of Cherry’s death. Peterson said that he has two experts who will testify that the girl died after Dechaine was picked up by police and questioned.
“I’m not giving up on it,” Peterson said.
Peterson told supreme court justices during their hearing on the appeal in May that a new analysis of fingernail clippings previously introduced into evidence at Dechaine’s 1989 trial could eliminate Dechaine as the possible perpetrator.
Cherry was kidnapped July 6, 1988, from a home in Bowdoin where she was baby-sitting. A search began after the parents of the baby came home and could not find Cherry. Her body was found two days later in the woods. An autopsy determined she had been sexually assaulted, stabbed many times and strangled.
Since his 1989 trial, Dechaine has maintained his innocence. During the November 2013 hearing, Peterson argued that new DNA analysis should prompt a new trial. But Bradford later ruled that after considering old and new evidence in the case, he could not conclude the former Bowdoinham farmer would have received a different verdict.
Bradford said at the time that throughout the lengthy history of the case, the defense had sought to introduce evidence of another suspect. A private investigator hired by Dechaine’s supporters went to Florida and secretly acquired that suspect’s DNA from a coffee cup.
The Bangor Daily News is not naming the other man because he has not been charged.
Bradford said in April that even if the DNA on the coffee cup was that man’s, “none of the new DNA evidence implicates [the other man].”
Furthermore, he said, the defense had failed to connect DNA under Cherry’s fingernails to her murderer. There was no evidence of a struggle between Cherry and her attacker, and none of her fingernails were broken, he said. He also agreed with prosecution witnesses from the November 2013 hearing that the fingernail samples from Cherry were contaminated.
Items from Dechaine’s truck were found at the house where Cherry was baby-sitting and abducted, and samples of rope used to tie her hands were consistent with rope found in Dechaine’s truck and matched rope found in the woods between his truck and where Cherry’s body was found.
Multiple people testified that Dechaine later confessed to the murder, and no one could corroborate his alibi that he was using drugs and walking around in the woods at the time of the murder.