Jul 17, 2010
Here is the article and the link to PPH and followed by Dennis’ letter to Trevor Maxwell.
Dennis Dechaine, who is serving a life sentence for murdering a 12-year-old girl in 1988, says he tried to kill himself with prescription drugs earlier this year.
In a letter sent this week to The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Dechaine said he “ingested a combination of prescription drugs in an attempt to end my life” in early April at the Maine State Prison in Warren.
A grand jury in Knox County indicted Dechaine this week on a charge of trafficking in prison contraband. Dechaine wrote in the letter to the newspaper that he acknowledged the suicide attempt publicly because he is being charged in the case.
Dechaine, 52, was convicted in 1989 of killing Sarah Cherry of Bowdoin. The Madawaska native has maintained his innocence through four unsuccessful appeals, and the case has been the subject of intense legal and media interest over the years.
This fall, the judge who presided at his trial is expected to hear arguments on whether Dechaine should get a new trial, based primarily on a fragment of unidentified male DNA extracted from Sarah Cherry’s clipped thumbnail.
Dechaine was hospitalized on April 5. His brother said Dechaine was near death, but prison officials have refused to comment, citing confidentiality laws.
According to the indictment issued Tuesday, Dechaine had morphine and Klonopine, a drug that’s used to treat seizure and panic disorders. No one else was indicted in connection with the incident, according Geoffrey Rushlau, Knox County’s district attorney.
Dechaine wrote in his letter, dated July 10, “I have been imprisoned 22 years and the soul crushing monotony, boredom, institutional food, pervasive violence, 24 hour lights, near constant noise, harsh treatment, myriad petty rules, lack of resources, loss of potential, separation from family and friends, along with a raft of other negativity, simply conspired to erode my will to live.”
Dechaine’s letter detailed frustration with his case and called his suicide attempt “a reasonable response to an intolerable situation.”
Dechaine’s attorney, Steve Peterson, said he doesn’t expect the indictment to affect his client’s push for a new trial.
If Dechaine were convicted of trafficking before his hearing on the request for a new murder trial, it could be brought up at the hearing, Peterson said, but a rapid conviction is unlikely.
“I don’t know how much sense it makes to indict someone who’s already serving a life sentence,” said Peterson. “I’ve seen it happen before.”
Asked if some might see the suicide attempt as an admission of guilt, Peterson said he has seen the letter his client wrote and doesn’t think so.
“What it is, is a venting of how frustrated he is about being in jail and being wrongfully convicted,” said Peterson. “Trying to get this righted has been a very frustrating thing for him.”
Peterson said Dechaine is now in an exercise program at the prison and appears to be stable. “Whatever depression he was in that caused this to have happened seems to have passed,” he said.
Dechaine’s friends and family in Madawaska said they took the news of the attempted suicide hard.
“It was devastating for us,” said Carol Waltman, a friend of Dechaine’s since high school and the founder of Trial and Error, an advocacy group that maintains his innocence. “We’ve got to understand where he’s coming from. Being in a place like that, it’s a hellhole.”
Both Waltman and Don Dechaine, Dennis Dechaine’s older brother, were upset that he got prescription drugs in the first place.
Don Dechaine said people who visit inmates go through an intensive search. He said he believes the drugs had to have been smuggled in by a prison worker.
“They search, scan, there’s no way to receive any drugs,” said Don Dechaine. “It has to come from within the prison.”
He said he plans to talk with Peterson about filing a complaint with the state.
Denise Lord, associate commissioner of the Department of Corrections, said the department is continuing to investigate the circumstances.
“We’re concerned if drugs are coming, or are in the facility inappropriately or illegally,” said Lord. “We’re definitely looking into it.”
The letter Dennis sent to Trevor Maxwell follows:
I have received the first series of articles you wrote, published July 4.
I was surprised that there was such an interest in making public my recent
hospitalization. The reason why I was hospitalized on April 5 is because
on the evening of April 4 I ingested a combination of prescription drugs
in an attempt to end my life.
I didn’t think I would ever have to explain myself, but since the state
now seems intent in charging me criminally, it appears that keeping this a
private matter is no longer a possibility. What drove me to suicide? A
combination of factors.
I have been imprisoned 22 years and the soul crushing monotony, boredom,
institutional food, pervasive violence, 24 hour lights, near constant
noise, harsh treatment, myriad petty rules, lack of resources, loss of
potential, separation from family and friends, along with a raft of other
negativity, simply conspired to erode my will to live.
Combined with the overwhelming oppression of prison were thoughts about my
case and my chances for justice. It seems that every time exculpatory
facts are revealed, state agents respond by digging their heels in with
greater resolve. The state, with its infinite resources, tilts the playing
field so precipitously that a defendant with limited resources doesn’t
stand a chance. All I ever wanted is the right to present all of the facts
in my case to a jury of my peers, something our constitution fundamentally
affords. Why can’t I do that in Maine?
Prosecutor Bill Stokes implied that I should not be allowed to continue
appealing my case because I failed to make my case in previous efforts.
That’s the sort of flawed reasoning that drives me to distraction. Stokes’
office first argued against DNA testing and now it’s arguing to keep a
jury from ever hearing the results of that testing. His office also fought
to keep any discussion of alternate suspects from a jury. One of his
colleagues had potentially crucial forensic evidence incinerated before
the value of that hair and fiber could be ascertained. Why would a
prosecutor want to make evidence disappear? Logically, anyone who destroys
evidence or sanctions its destruction, clearly isn’t interested in truth
or justice. That no jury will ever benefit from the knowledge inherent in
that evidence creates frustration that weighs heavily on me.
Another source of frustration was also alluded to in one of your articles,
which stated that no other case in Maine has ever been litigated for so
long. The vast majority of that time has been wasted waiting for the state
to respond to motions, and for the courts to schedule hearings or make
decisions. As time goes by the torment of waiting worsens, diminishing any
hope for a return to a meaningful and productive life.
In Maine, a life sentence is a cruel and lingering death sentence that
eventually breeds despair and hopelessness. I have watched men grow old in
prison and I have been horrified by the thought of it. This is no place
for men weakened by age or disability. Given my prison experience, the
lack of control over my own life, the sense of frustration where
prosecutors and courts are concerned, it takes no great effort to
understand why I tried to end it all. Is it unreasonable to believe that
suicide may very well be a reasonable response to an intolerable