Trial and Error

The Outcry for Justice in the Dennis Dechaine Case

Trial & Error Newsletter – September, 2014

Sep 12, 2014

Dear Supporters:

Once again we thank you for your continued support and ask that you please forward this newsletter to all in your address book. As always, for the latest on the case, please visit our website at

The Status of Denniss Case

In April, 2014, semi-retired Judge Carl Bradford, the trial judge, issued his final denial regarding Dennis’s motion for a new trial under Maine’s 2006 revised post-conviction DNA statute. This motion had originally been filed (under the old statute) in 2003.

The revised statute requires that, “The DNA test results, when considered with all the other evidence in this case, old and new . . . would make it probable that a different verdict would result upon a new trial.” Judge Bradford ruled that this wording applied strictly to DNA evidence, and to evidence admitted in the trial and previous hearings. Thus, he would not allow the introduction of any additional evidence other than DNA evidence.

Evidence barred from consideration included the findings of the renowned forensic pathologists Dr. Walter Hofman and Dr. Cyril Wecht that time-of-death evidence excluded Dennis as the killer, Also barred was compelling evidence that detectives Hendsbee and Westrum had committed perjury when they testified that Dennis, in effect, had confessed — indeed, in his denial of Dennis‘s motion, Judge Bradford even cited the alleged confessions.

In 1992, six weeks after Dennis filed a motion for a new trial, the state had incinerated various items of evidence potentially containing DNA. Inadvertently, the victim’s thumbnails were omitted; when tested, one nail produced a partial but clearly male profile that was not Dennis’s, nor that of anyone else yet identified. The state has argued that this DNA was of no significance since Dennis had no scratches on him, and claimed it was contamination resulting from sloppy procedures of the state medical examiner‘s office.

In 2013, new Touch DNA testing was performed on several surviving articles;Sarah’s shirt, bra, and the ligature. The ligature was a scarf belonging to Dennis which was removed from his truck, apparently by the killer. Although some male DNA was found, it was so degraded that no significant conclusions could be derived. However, it was noted that alternative suspect Doug Senecal could not be excluded as the source of the relatively strongest partial profile found on the scarf. Dennis could not be excluded as the source of a weaker partial profile found on the shirt, although the ease with which DNA from his scarf could have been transferred to the shirt also renders this finding meaningless as evidence.

Although greatly handicapped by Judge Bradford‘s narrow ruling on admissible evidence, Dennis’s lawyer, Steve Peterson, argued that, given the significant evidence backing Dennis’s claim of innocence presented at the 1989 trial (including the lack of any evidence that Sarah was ever in Dennis’s truck), had the jury known about the unknown male thumbnail DNA the verdict would surely have been different. Judge Bradford, of course, disagreed.

Judge Bradford also, finally, denied Dennis’s 2012 motion that he, Bradford, recuse himself from sitting on the case. By remaining, Bradford was being asked to pass judgment on his pre-trial decision sustaining the state’s objection to having any DNA testing performed, even though Dennis had offered to pay for this testing. (The state had first engaged in DNA testing in the summer of 1988.) Had Bradford not so ruled, surely there would have then been ample fresh DNA available for testing, and Dennis would have gone free, instead of being sentenced to life in prison until death. And surely the real killer would have been quickly brought to justice.

On September 15, 2014, Steve Peterson filed an appeal of Judge Bradford’s decision with the Law Court, (i.e., the Maine Supreme Judicial Court). In his argument, Peterson cited the 2013 decision in the post-conviction appeal, also under the revised DNA statute, by Olland Reese. In his decision denying the appeal, the trial judge in this case wrote, regarding admissible evidence: “At the hearing it was agreed that the Court could consider the original trial record, the entire post-conviction record and all of the crime lab and other expert reports generated from the outset up to the date of the hearing.” The denial of Reese’s appeal was subsequently affirmed by the Law Court.

This ruling was exactly the opposite of Judge Bradford’s ruling which had denied Dennis the ability to introduce important exculpatory evidence. This significant precedent would seem to bode well for Dennis’s appeal, but as we have learned to our sorrow, when it comes to decisions on Dennis’s case, one should never assume that reason or justice will prevail.

Steve Peterson’s brief may be downloaded at our website

Common Ground Fair

Once again — we think this was our 12th year — Trial & Error had an informational booth at the Common Ground Country Fair held at Unity, Me. September 19 –21. Volunteer booth-tenders were Sue Pastore, Sheila Wood Ford and her mother Norma Satori, Bernie Huebner, Kathy Pappagallo, and Bill Bunting. Also, Bob MacLaughlin spelled Bill for a time. As usual, the response from the fairgoers whom we spoke with was overwhelmingly positive. After returning home from her Friday afternoon stint Sue reported:

“I am home and just feeling really good about all the positive energy that came my way. Bill, you are so right about asking anyone who even hesitates, “Hi, do you know about this case?” As soon as one person stops and we are earnestly engaged others stop and listen and you can engage all. I hope everyone has such a rewarding, at times heart-rending experience.”

Bernie wrote upon his return:

“I’m flat-out bushed, too much so to report very cogently, except to say that Kathy was a strong participant, and despite her claim of being shy, jumped right in with person after person, engaging them and exhibiting significant knowledge of the case.  We had no opposing views, but all the supporting conversations were more of a sharing of how screwed up the post-conviction review system is here in Maine.  Your report on Bradford’s most recent ruling and Steve’s filing with the Law Court was quite useful, as a number of folks simply wanted an update.”

For her part, Kathy reported:

“I have to say, I think my experience was captured perfectly by Sue’s experience – heart-rending but rewarding.

There were so many compassionate and wonderful people of all ages that came through that tent yesterday – many with the belief that there was an injustice done and reform needs to take place, understandably a huge task.”

Of course not everyone who passed by the booth was a supporter. Very few people who believe that Dennis is guilty stopped to discuss the evidence, or were interested in picking up the flyer with the latest information on the case. Evidently their minds were made up, no matter the facts. One skeptic did pause and demanded that Bill give him one reason to question Dennis’s guilt — he was not interested in looking at the flyer that listed twenty reasons. Bill responded that the Innocence Project had been supporting Dennis for over twenty years, and that they had certainly reviewed all the evidence which the man was not interested in hearing. The man had no response, so Bill added that in 26 years Dennis had never been attacked in prison, despite the heinous crime he had been convicted of. The man said nothing but then picked up the two flyers.

A woman reported that she had been in the jury pool but was rejected when she said that she thought Dennis was innocent. A lawyer who had always thought Dennis innocent and knows Judge Bradford said that Bradford is a good man but that once he makes up his mind there is no changing it. The wife of a former member of the professional staff at Maine State Prison said that her husband was convinced of Dennis’s innocence and was terribly upset by what has happened with his case. Several former inmates who knew Dennis from prison wished to be remembered to him.

How is Dennis doing?

Considering his circumstances, Dennis is doing well. He has been working eight hours a day, six days a week in the upholstery shop of the Prison Industries. He likes the men he works with and gets satisfaction from the high quality of the work that the shop turns out. Throughout his years in the prison Dennis has been a strong supporter of the industries program, and also of the educational programs.

In order to keep his job, Dennis was required to double-bunk. Even though his cellmate Chris (who also has a college degree) is as compatible a cellmate as Dennis could hope for, it has not been easy for Dennis to adjust to being locked in for the night with another man in an eight by ten cell, but he is working at it.

Here is one of Jim Moore’s many writings on the case. Please follow the link below to read more. Copy, paste and send to whoever you know that truly cares about justice.


James P. Moore

Prosecutors theorized that Dennis Dechaine abducted her from the Henkel home where she was babysitting between 12 noon and 3:00pm on Wednesday, July 6th, 1988. While there, a notebook and receipt bearing his name were dropped or fell from his truck. Then on this near-90-degree afternoon, he transported Sarah in his truck a distance of three miles to the woods where her body would be found two days later bound with Dechaine’s rope and strangled with his scarf.

They say no one else could have removed these items from that truck to frame him because when found, its windows were closed and doors locked. They say its doors couldn’t be locked without the key, and Dechaine had the key with him.

They say that Dechaine committed horrifying acts on Sarah, including: superficial cuts and stabbings which indicate torture, and the forceful insertion of birch sticks into her anus and vagina; then he strangled her to death.

Unable to find his truck, Dechaine exited those woods. At 8:45pm that Wednesday night, he asked a nearby resident’s assistance to find his truck.

The State presented this evidence at Dechaine’s trial:

1- His papers found at the house where she was abducted.

2- His rope that bound her; his scarf that strangled her.

3- He had been in the woods where her body was found.

4- He had no alibi.

5- A Medical Examiner’s testimony, indicating that the murder was committed at a time when Dechaine could not account for his whereabouts or actions.

6- Dechaine’s statements to detectives indicating guilt.

7- An announcement of guilt to two jail guards.

8- Finally, Prosecutor Wright told the jury, “There are no other suspects in this case.”

Members of the Attorney General’s office characterize their circumstantial case as a “mountain of evidence” constituting “overwhelming” proof of Dechaine’s guilt.

However, science, the world’s most objective, honest teacher of truth (because science doesn’t care who wins), proves that he can’t possibly have murdered Sarah Cherry.

And, official documents found in the Attorney General’s “confidential file” prove official misconduct by prosecutors which includes hidden evidence, clouded facts, perjured testimony and a pattern of disingenuous dissembling that dishonors police, prosecutors and Maine’s system of justice. In truth, the prosecutors’ circumstantial “mountain of evidence” was a mirage.

Don’t take my word. Proof of Dennis Dechaine’s innocence (if you care to see how so many people were wrong about this case) is documented with official reports at

As always, investigations are continuing on the case. For some of us it is a 24/7 commitment and we will not stop until justice is served. Please write letters to the newspapers — even if only the editors read them it can help. Continued donations are essential, and are “tax deductible”. Donations may be sent via PayPal or snail mail to Trial and Error, PO Box 153, Madawaska, Maine 04756. To those who have contributed, please know that your kindness and generosity are deeply appreciated.

Once again, on October 29th  Dennis will spend another birthday in prison. If you can, please send him a birthday card at Dennis Dechaine #1725 Maine State Prison 807 Cushing Road, Warren Maine 04864.

Thanking you for your interest and support,

Carol Waltman Pres.

Bill Bunting VP

Bernie Huebner

Steve Sandau

Bob MacLaughlin

Nancy Farrin

Eugenie Nakell

Don Dechaine

Read the Book


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