Apr 10, 2014
As most of you will have heard by now, on April 10 Judge Bradford posted his decision denying Dennis’s motion for a retrial under the provisions of the revised post-conviction DNA statute. It was a long time coming, and no great surprise, although we couldn’t help but hope. In Bradford’s opinion, according to his ruling, even if the members of the jury had heard testimony concerning DNA evidence uncovered since the trial they still would have found Dennis guilty. Judge Bradford interpreted the statute in the narrowest possible way and would not consider any post-trial findings or evidence other than that involving DNA. The fact that one of the original jurors is on record as saying that he would not have voted to convict had he known of the presence of unidentified DNA under Sarah Cherry’s thumbnail thus was not considered. Nor were the findings of two distinguished forensic pathologists that time-of-death science eliminated Dennis as the killer. Bradford’s position is even more unsupportable given that recent rulings by Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court — the “Law Court” — back a much broader interpretation of what constitutes admissible evidence under the revised post-conviction DNA statute than that which Bradford employed.
With this decision, after nearly twenty-five contentious years, Judge Bradford’s active role in the Sarah Cherry murder case has come to an end. It would be fair to say that Judge Bradford has now supplanted Dennis as the lead character in this long, sad story. Our first impulse in writing this newsletter was to review some of Judge Bradford’s past decisions, beginning with his denial of Dennis’s pre-trial request to have evidence tested for the presence of DNA. But a cooler head prevailed, and indeed, Bradford’s arguments have already been challenged and refuted many times. And so, following the advice of our dear late mothers, since we have nothing positive to add, we will say nothing more about Judge Bradford’s decisions.
However, we will note that there have now been fifty-eight exonerations from convictions from the single year of 1989, the year of Dennis’s conviction. It is probably no coincidence that in June, 1988, presidential candidate George H. W. Bush made a campaign speech about the notorious Willie Horton case, and soon thereafter Republicans were attacking Democrats for being “soft on crime.” It would be interesting to know how many of the attorneys general and district attorneys linked to convictions in 1989 that have since been overturned were Democrats attempting to prove how tough on criminals they were. The great irony, of course, is that in those cases the actual criminal had escaped punishment.
So where does Dennis go from here? Dennis’s steadfast lawyer, Steve Peterson, will petition the Law Court, challenging Bradford’s ruling. Although the Law Court is not obligated to hear the appeal, given the great significance of this case, it would be very surprising if it did not. Meanwhile, Dennis wants you all to know that he is doing well, and is kept very busy by his job as an upholsterer. He thanks each and every one of you for your support. The continuance of that support is as important now as it has ever been, and letters to the editor offering rational, fact-based arguments on Dennis’s behalf are particularly helpful. Sending the same kind of letters to your state representatives can never hurt; you never know who will be the next attorney general. We want to express our thanks to those who have sent donations. Through your donations we have been able to continue important testing and investigations in our effort to leave no stone unturned.
As always, please forward this to others.
Carol Waltman, Pres.
Bill Bunting, V.Pres.