Supporters hope for retrial from Dechaine hearing

12 April 2012

ST. JOHN VALLEY –It's been a 24-year journey for Dennis Dechaine, but supporters of the man convicted of murdering young Sarah Cherry 24 years ago are hoping that DNA evidence Dechaine's lawyer will present at a hearing in May will result in a new trial for the man.

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At a May 23 hearing next month, Carl O. Bradford, the original judge who presided over the trial 24 years ago will evaluate test results from DNA left beneath Cherry's fingernails when someone murdered the 12-year-old. Dechaine's supporters say the testing shows that Dechaine's DNA is absent from Cherry's fingernails.

Dechaine graduated from Madawaska High school.

Carol Waltman, a Madawaska resident who is the president of Trial and Error, an organization that has advocated for Dechaine for many years, said technicians are performing further tests on yellow rope that investigators found at the scene.

Waltman said that this rope may contain Dechaine's DNA because he had similar rope in the back of his pickup. The hypothesis is that the murderer may have taken the rope from Dechaine's vehicle.

Waltman said, “Dennis always said it could be his. What we are looking for is any other DNA on there.”

She said, “We're hoping to find other DNA on other items the state never tested.”

Bradford will conduct the hearing and be the sole decision-maker in granting or denying a retrial. Maine law stipulates that defendants can only present DNA evidence at the hearing. Last fall, Dennis’s lawyer, Steve Petersen, made a motion that would have also allowed admittance of time-of-death evidence, based on a “claim of actual innocence” precedent used in other states. Judge Bradford denied the motion.

Waltman said, “That [evidence] proves that Dennis was already in jail when the child died, poor thing.”

Bill Bunting, vice president of Trial and Error, said the hearing is a positive sign, but that they are keeping their expectations low. He said, “We're looking forward to it. We're certainly not going to get our hopes up, given the past history.”

He hopes Bradford will grant Dechaine a retrial. He said, “That's all that Dennis has been asking for for the past 24 years.”

He said, “All we want is a trial where the jury can hear all the evidence.

“Dennis wants a trial. He wants to prove his innocence.”

The hearing will take place in Portland at the Cumberland County Courthouse.