Trial and Error

The Outcry for Justice in the Dennis Dechaine Case

Dechaine Deserves New Trial, New Judge

Aug 4, 2010

Tim Moore at 94.9 WHOM

Fact, Fiction & Fun, Not Necessarily In That Order

Justice.

Webster’s Dictionary defines it as : a)“the quality of being just, impartial, or fair b)(1) the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2): conformity to this principle or ideal.”

In a world where we see a known terrorist who murdered hundreds released by Scottish officials on “humanitarian” grounds, where we hear of admitted murderers get plea-bargained sentences that allow them to see the light of day a few scant years after their crimes, it is no wonder that the public has no appetite for going “soft” on criminals.
Justice is a joke when these abuses are made known.

But what about those wrongly accused?

Dennis Dechaine has been behind bars for over 22 YEARS for a crime he could not possibly have committed. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could have happened to you or me.

An enormity of evidence—both denied to the jury at trial and discovered after the conviction—have, in my opinion, cleared Dennis Dechaine from any involvement in the abduction and murder of 12 year old Sarah Cherry back in 1988.

Despite this evidence, including DNA—Dechaine and his lawyers have been thwarted at every turn in their quest to gain Dennis a new trial. Legal procedure delays, petty maneuvering and the Maine “good ‘ol boy” legal community have conspired to deny a man with a compelling case for innocence the chance at a new trial.

Why?

Simple, really. The ego investment of the prosecutor, the judge and those police officers who failed to follow ANY OTHER leads or suspects would have their incompetence or obstruction of justice become completely exposed in a new trial.

The original prosecutor Eric Wright, in his zeal to satiate the public’s thirst for a suspect and a conviction, made a series of decisions that obscured the time of death (something defense attorney Tom Connolly acknowledged was a failing on his part to explore) This piece of critical evidence alone would have exonerated Dechaine. While finding the TRUTH should be the charge of the Prosecutor’s office, instead it was merely about finding someone to convict—and making the circumstantial evidence conform to sway a jury already predisposed by intense media exposure—to punish someone.

The judge?

Justice Carl O. Bradford. Many believe he made a series of errors in the original trial. I won’t assume his motives were suspect, but clearly the legal tradition of having the ORIGINAL PRESIDING JUDGE decide the fate of appeals is simply ludicrous!

Judge Bradford is semi-retired but still active enough to be the JUDGE WHO WILL DECIDE whether Dechaine gets a new trial in September?

Are you kidding me?

It’s been said that only judges have bigger egos than lawyers—and this judge has turned a blind eye to the JUSTICE principle defined above—to hide behind a stream of legal mumbo-jumbo, anything at all to divert attention away from the blunders he made that have ruined an innocent man’s life. Dennis actually pushed for DNA testing prior to his trial. Does this sound like the request of a guilty man?

Prosecutors opposed the introduction of this DNA evidence—and it was denied by Judge Bradford. One can speculate on WHY the state would oppose a method that would definitively isolate the true killer. Or, why, before Dechaine’s appeal could come to court, why the state INCINERATED all potential DNA evidence, save for a thumbnail, which, through an error of the court clerk, was placed in the possession of the defense counsel.

State laws were painstakingly changed to allow for the presentation of DNA evidence. Here’s another suggestion for a state law:

FORBID THE APPELATE REVIEW OF ANY CASE FROM BEING HEARD BY THE ORIGINAL PRESIDING JUDGE.

Yeah, I know that judges are SUPPOSED to be unbiased, but they are also human—and the last thing that Justice Carl O. Bradford will ever do is admit that he screwed up.

He did.
He probably knows it.
And he doesn’t care…….or does he? Does he really care for this concept called “justice”?

While we certainly can suspect the prosecutor’s office in the withholding and/or destruction of critical evidence, we will ASSUME the judge was not at all aware of these shenanigans. Revelation of these irregularities ALONE should compel the good judge to err on the side of…JUSTICE…and allow a new trial on this basis solely.

Judge Bradford’s upcoming decision on whether or not to grant Dechaine a new trial will define his career on the bench. Should he take into account the mountain of evidence that points in another direction, evidence that makes Dechaine’s guilt physically impossible and takes into consideration the criminally irresponsible behavior of the prosecutor’s office in the conduct of its investigation and subsequent trial, he will rule for justice, a forum where ALL of the evidence can be heard by a jury. Should he continue to hide behind the manipulation of words that lawyers use to distort the truth, he will concoct a lengthy document that, while filled with impressive legalese, will say nothing—other than the system he presides over is corrupt—and he is a part of that corruption.

Which will it be, your honor?

This case has haunted me ever since I read the excellent book by James P. Moore (no relation), entitled “Human Sacrifice”. It reads like a novel—gripping and astonishing, but to those connected to both the victim and the accused, it is nothing short of a real-life horror story. A retired law enforcement officer with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Moore attended a meeting of “Trial and error”, the group of Dechaine supporters who believe in his innocence and have, for over two decades, sought legal avenues toward gaining Dennis a new trial.

It is difficult to imagine living in prison, but to do so knowing that you didn’t commit the crime is beyond my ability to comprehend.

For those not familiar with the case, here are the basics.

On July 6, 1988, 12-year old Sarah Cherry was abducted while babysitting. Her body was found two days later in the woods. She had been strangled and tortured. Dennis Dechaine was picked up by police after leaving the woods. He was injecting drugs and had become disoriented, losing awareness of the location of his truck. He emerged from the woods around 8:45pm on the 6th.

After Sarah’s body was discovered on the 8th, Dechaine was arrested and charged with murder. He has not been free since.

I remember the case well. I also remember being convinced by news reports—ones that I myself delivered on the radio back then—that the police had arrested the right guy. I am about the same age as Dechaine. In 1988, I was 30 years old and living in Ellsworth, Maine. In the 22 years since then, my life has changed profoundly. Three children, two of whom are in college now. Advances in my career, moving to Portland, buying new houses and cars. Countless vacations, dinners out, family celebrations, holidays and excursions and simple pleasures have filled my days and nights. My wife and I just celebrated our 25th anniversary. It has truly been glorious.

For Dennis Dechaine?

Those same 22 years—losing his wife (a mutually agreed upon divorce to protect her assets from a civil trial), no family, no such simple pleasures—and the crushing boredom of endless days in the hell that is prison. No end in sight. Every hope, every wisp of a chance to introduce JUSTICE is delayed, blunted and thwarted by players in a legal system that’s more concerned with “following procedure/precedent” than finding truth. How Dennis has maintained his sanity and seemingly has come to terms with the bitterness of his situation is beyond my ability to comprehend.

Author James Moore was intrigued by the case—enough to conduct his own investigation—but warned members of “Trial and error” that if he found evidence to CONFIRM Dechaine’s guilt, he would make it public.

In fact, Moore, in his own telling of the circumstances, entered his investigation convinced of Dechaine’s guilt. After all, Dechaine was seen stumbling out the woods near where Sarah Cherry’s body was later found. Items from his truck were found in the driveway where Sarah was abducted. Police reports told of “confessions” by Dechaine-which was used as evidence in the trial, despite the absence of these so-called confessions in the police notes-and Dechaine’s denial of ever confessing to the crime.

The evidence that exonerates Dechaine (in my opinion) but at the VERY LEAST should gain him a new trial is overwhelming, but contains these highlights:

1) According to the medical examiner’s report—given huge windows on either side of the time of death of Sarah Cherry, Dennis Dechaine could not POSSIBLY have committed the crime—–because he was either in custody, being questioned or at home following his initial release by police—and under surveillance. Sarah’s throat was constricted in such a manner that she could not possibly have lived more than about 2 minutes from the time she was strangled. Dechaine was in custody when she died. It’s my opinion that Prosecutor Eric Wright was also aware of the problematic nature of the timing and thus, glossed over it at trial. Had the defense made this an issue, there could have been a different result.

2) DNA evidence from Sarah’s fingernails contain blood that is hers, but also blood from a man who is NOT Dennis Dechaine.

3) Forensic evidence concluded that Sarah Cherry was NEVER in Dennis Dechaine’s pickup truck. No fiber, no hairs, nothing. She was never there.

4) A known child molester with a history of violence was ignored as a suspect. Police notes outlining a set of footprints to this persons trailer—one adult and one barefoot child (Sarah was barefoot when abducted-her shoes left at the home of the people she was babysitting) were never followed up on.

5) Dennis Dechaine had absolutely no record of violence in his past. None. The mutilation that occurred to Sarah suggests a sociopath. Additionally, her panties were missing. Psychologists say that perpetrators of crimes like these often take a “souvenir” such as this. Dechaine had nothing like this on his person, in his truck or in his house. They have never been found—because the killer took them. A killer who is not Dennis Dechaine.
6) Of the nearly 200 items found in Dechaine’s truck, the only two that contained his name (and were part of the damning evidence that convicted him) where the ones that “fell out” of his truck during the abduction. The odds that only these two would be left behind is astronomical. This was a frameup. Remember, Sarah Cherry was NEVER in this truck that supposedly abducted her.

7) Dennis Dechaine did not know Sarah Cherry and would have had no reason to know that she would be at that house, at that time.

8) Dechaine himself pressed for examination of his house, his truck and his person, confident that an honest investigation would clear him. His mistake was in believing in the system, believing that his innocence would be evident.

9) There were multiple alternate suspects in the vicinity, men with criminal records of violence—and violence towards children. Dechaine’s arrest effectively halted all subsequent investigation into these more likely killers. Dechaine’s arrest was reasonable—he should have been a suspect, but certainly NOT the only one—and, as it turns out, the exclusive attention paid to him allowed the real killer to escape investigation and arrest.

There are many other pieces of evidence, circumstances—and just plain common sense that would point towards the notion of a new trial being a good idea.

Here is some video of Dennis himself, being interviewed in prison 6 years ago:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVIb2qplq_U
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KslcRNuk9iQ&feature=related

Dennis Dechaine tried to take his own life in April. It was not successful—and new charges of trafficking in the drugs he used may be pending. Who could blame him? If you ask: how someone with a new trial decision pending could possibly take his own life, my only response would be that after over two decades of one legal disappointment after another, it’s likely that Dennis is just about out of hope.

So what about the victim’s family?

Many believe that Sarah’s family has been short-changed in all of this—and I cannot disagree. While at least one juror who voted for conviction has publicly said that the introduction of this new evidence would have been grounds for acquittal, I have yet to read or hear from a family member of the victim who believes Dechaine is innocent.

Sarah Cherry, were she alive today, would no doubt be a beautiful and vibrant 34 year old woman. Judging from the details we know about her as a 12 year old, she would likely have graduated college with distinction, perhaps have been an athlete and would likely now be a mother herself.

Perhaps the only “witness” to the abduction of Sarah Cherry was the infant who was being cared for—and who would be about 23 years old today. Apart from the killer, this infant was likely the last person to see Sarah alive.

This brutal murder cries out for justice, not merely “closure”. The conviction of the wrong person does not constitute justice or closure, only retribution.

If you’d like to know more about this case, I highly recommend the book “Human Sacrifice” by James P. Moore. I also encourage you to visit the website of Trial and error:www.trialanderrordennis.org

The tragedy of Sarah Cherry’s death is the ultimate one.
The tragedy of Dennis Dechaine’s wrongful conviction is second in line—and vies with the knowledge that the TRUE killer got away with it (and did God knows what to others since)

Let’s not compound this series of tragedies by allowing Dechaine to be denied a new trial by a judge who has NO BUSINESS being involved with this case any longer. Judge Bradford has the final say, whether he deserves it or not.

It’s not about who made a mistake—or who may have concealed evidence.

It’s about justice.

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