PORTLAND, Maine — After decades in prison and a summer of relative freedom, a man convicted of a nearly 30-year-old murder will be back in court this week trying to overturn his conviction.
Since a jury found him responsible for stabbing a teenage girl to death in 1989, Anthony Sanborn has mostly lived locked away in Maine’s maximum security prison. But in April, a judge released him on bail after the sole eyewitness to the crime recanted her original testimony, telling a shocked courtroom that she’d been nowhere near the murder scene and was legally blind at the time.
Sanborn will return to court Tuesday to resume hearings in the legal push to clear his name of the slaying of 16-year-old Jessica Briggs. The hearings could see the 45-year-old on sent back to prison, granted a new trial or exonerated of a crime for which he’s already spent 27 years behind bars.
The earlier proceedings have already cast doubt on Sanborn’s 1992 conviction. His legal team has claimed that police and prosecutors bullied and threatened witnesses and suppressed evidence to obtain a conviction in the high-profile case.
The hearing is scheduled to last more than 10 days, during which Sanborn’s attorneys and state prosecutors will relitigate the details of the original investigation and trial and call dozens of witnesses to support their claims.
Two issues will likely be central to the hearing: the contents of boxes of evidence that a retired Portland police officer kept stored in his home for years, and the credibility of Hope Cady, the witness who recanted her original testimony.
Cady, who was 13 and in state care at the time of the killing, said this spring that she had not actually witnessed Briggs’ murder and had been coerced into testifying by Portland police detectives and a state prosecutor.
Following Cady’s explosive testimony, Justice Joyce Wheeler allowed Sanborn to be released on a $25,000 cash or surety bond to his wife’s Westbrook home. But former prosecutor Pamela Ames and former Portland police detectives James Daniels and Daniel Young have denied her allegations in sworn affidavits.
And the prosecutors now working to uphold Sanborn’s original conviction contend that it was not Cady’s original testimony but her recent recantation that was forced.
Soon before she took the stand in April, Cady told Augusta police that Sanborn’s lead lawyer, Amy Fairfield, and a private investigator were following and threatening her, according to a police report. Fairfield has denied pressuring the witness, but the credibility of Cady’s contradictory statements will likely be important terrain in the upcoming court battle.
The two legal teams are also likely to fight over boxes of evidence that Daniels, the lead investigator into Briggs murder, kept in his home for years after Sanborn’s conviction.
Daniels, who retired in 1998, turned over the boxes of documents related to the murder case in April and again in June. It is unclear why the case material was stored in his home and whether that followed police policy on evidence control.
The boxes contain material that would have been helpful to Sanborn’s original case but was not released to his defense team during the trial, Fairfield claimed in court filings.
Fairfield’s arguments in the post-conviction review have already filled thick folders full of court documents, but the Attorney General’s office previously contended that several of her allegations are too vague for prosecutors to properly respond. Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam asked for the case to be dismissed in June.
Justice Wheeler ruled in August that Sanborn’s hearing could go forward and told Fairfield to provide further detail on some claims. But the state’s strategy for defending the decades-old conviction remain unclear.