Trial and Error

The Outcry for Justice in the Dennis Dechaine Case

Former Skeptic


Several years ago, my mother called me on the phone to tell me about a book she just finished. 

“It’s about Dennis Dechaine," she said, excitedly. "It was written by a retired ATF agent, and it proves he’s innocent! I always knew he was innocent.”

Mom rambled on a bit more before she said, “You need to read this book!” 

She’s my mother, so I took the book from her, then tossed it on a shelf where it stayed, unopened, for about six months. Finally, one day when I walked past it, I decided to crack it open. I remembered the case: the guy convicted of brutally murdering a young girl down in the southern part of the state. I didn’t really know the details, because at the time of the crime I was nineteen years old and pretty wrapped up in my own little existence. What I did remember was that the names of the principals would periodically pop up on the news over the years. It seemed like this guy, Dennis, was always trying to get a do-over. That’s as far as my interest or knowledge in the case went.

My mother, on the other hand, had followed the case from the start and was convinced Dechaine was innocent. 

“I could tell just by looking at him,” she told me. 

"Okay, Mom,” the skeptic in me would reply. "I’m sure you can determine a person’s innocence just by looking, but a jury actually convicted him based on real evidence."

By the time I’d finished Human Sacrifice, however, I was in total agreement with my mom and so upset I could barely see straight. I couldn’t believe the State of Maine could screw up an investigation so severely, then allow an innocent man to pay for a crime he clearly did not commit while allowing the real killer to roam free.

I understood my mother’s frustration, and within a short time I was head of the Bangor chapter of Trial and Error, the group seeking a retrial for Dennis, and I found myself sitting in the lobby at Maine State Prison waiting to meet him. What the hell was I going to say to this perfect stranger for two solid hours?

But all my apprehensions dissipated the moment I walked into the visiting room and Dennis greeted me with a hug. We chatted easily the entire time, and I was surprised when a guard announced the visit was over. To make sure I wouldn’t be fooled by some master manipulator, I had educated myself on this case and knew, without a single doubt, that this guy was innocent.

That first visit was in 2005, and since then Dennis Dechaine has enriched my life in so many ways that it’s difficult to summarize. I consider him one of my best friends and feel blessed to have him in my life. I think what surprises me the most about him is his positive attitude. Sure, he has his bad days like we all do, but it doesn’t define him. And somehow 28 years of wrongful imprisonment, along with the state’s defiant refusals to grant hm a retrial, have failed to turn him into a hard, bitter man. 

On the contrary, Dennis is one of the most generous souls I’ve ever met. I’m not the only beneficiary of his brilliant mind, nor am I the only one he’s been a sounding board for, nor the only recipient of his hilarious sense of humor, which can make you laugh until you cry! He’s quick to assist his fellow man. He’s quick to remind you to try and see the best in others. 

And recently, he said to me, “You must show gratitude every single day.”

This is the Dennis Dechaine I know: the man who continues to strive for happiness in a situation that doesn’t inspire it, the man who after many years of legal disappointments, refuses to give up hope. The man who, by way of virtue, inspires me. 

I am grateful for every single day I know him.

Sheila Ford
Friend and frequent visitor

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Human Sacrifice: On the Altar of Injustice

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