Trial and Error

The Outcry for Justice in the Dennis Dechaine Case

Trial and Error Newsletter

Nov 11, 2013

Dear Supporters,

Our newsletter this time consists of the report that board member Bernie Huebner wrote up on Friday night, November 8, after coming home from two days spent sitting on hard wooden courtroom benches. (Actually, he had the good sense to bring his own cushion.) Bernie says that board members Bob MacLaughlin and Bill Bunting helped him gather his thoughts.

After reading Bernie’s report and the stories in the newspapers, and hearing the TV and Public Radio stories, you might wonder if Bernie and the reporters attended the same hearing. The reporter for the Press Herald was assigned the story at very short notice, and had no knowledge of this very complex case. He did the best he could, but stated that the scarf belonged to Sarah, a very serious error since it belonged to Dennis, and not only would be expected to have his DNA on it, but could transmit that DNA to her shirt. The reporter for the Bangor Daily News did not understand the provisions of the amended post-conviction DNA statute, which, thanks to the tireless work of then-Representative Ross Paradis, made Dennis’s motion for a retrial even possible. And so on. Bill Bunting recalls trying to give a copy of Human Sacrifice to a neighbor back in 2003, and the neighbor refusing it, saying that he preferred to keep ” an open mind,” and would get his information from the newspapers. Not surprisingly, he was convinced that Dennis was guilty, and probably thought that Bill was a member of the lunatic fringe.

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News Brief

Nov 9, 2013

TRIAL & ERROR, 11/9/13 — The hearing to decide if Dennis Dechaine will be granted a retrial ended Friday, November 8th, in Portland. The hearing began in June, 2012 and was adjourned after three days of testimony so that additional DNA testing could be performed. After multiple delays, it resumed yesterday to consider the results.

Judge Carl O. Bradford, who presided over the 1988 trial and ruled against Dennis’s appeal in 1992, will alone decide if there will be a retrial. Following the two days of testimony by expert witnesses for both the defense and the State, Judge Bradford called the hearing to a close. Rather than hear final arguments in the courtroom, he instead instructed lawyers for both sides to file written briefs summing up the cases. Defense attorney Steve Petersen has until January to file his brief, and Assistant Attorney General William Stokes has until February to submit his response.

Read more: News Brief


Oct 25, 2013

Dear Supporters,

It has been sixteen months since the last hearing in June, 2012. We have been notified that a new hearing date has been set for Thursday, Nov 7th, and if necessary, Nov 8th, at 9 a.m. The hearing will be held in Portland at Cumberland County Superior Court where the other hearings have been held. Because seating in the courtroom is very limited, we are not encouraging a large turnout of supporters — Dennis already knows that you are out there! And those who do attend must NOT demonstrate their support for Dennis in any outward way!

The result of the June, 2012 hearing was that Judge Bradford permitted more DNA testing to be performed on the scarf (which belonged to Dennis and was taken from his truck) and on Sarah’s shirt. Male DNA was obtained from both items, but was so degraded that no complete profiles could be obtained. Dennis asked that no possible DNA stone be left unturned in further testing on these items. Once again, Dr. Greg Hampikian will testify as our side’s expert on DNA issues.

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Trial & Error Newsletter

Aug 23, 2013

Dear Supporters,
It has been more than a year since the last hearing. (It has also been a long while since you have received a newsletter — our policy is to send out newsletters only when there is news that we can report.) The result of the June 2012 hearing was that Judge Bradford permitted more DNA testing on the scarf (which belonged to Dennis and was taken from his truck) and on Sarah’s shirt. Male DNA was obtained from both items, but was so degraded that no complete profiles could be obtained. Dennis has asked that no possible DNA stone be left unturned. It is probable that the next hearing will occur this October.

On July 8 Dennis completed 25 years in prison. And all for a crime that the scientific evidence says he did not commit. How long is 25 years? How long is 25 years spent in prison? How long is 25 years spent in prison for a terrible crime that someone else committed? Only Dennis really knows. On August 12, 2013, Dennis wrote:

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Former AG Jon Lund’s Letter to the Editor

Oct 3, 2012

Below are two letters to the editor written by Jon Lund, Maine’s first full-time Attorney General and former Chair of the Maine Criminal Law Review Commission. His 2008 letter (at bottom) was ignored by the media.  His latest, written since the discovery of additional DNA evidence, appeared in the Kennebec Journal on October 2, 2012.

October 2, 2012 at 12:00 AM

AG should take fresh look at Dechaine case

Read more: Former AG Jon...

Trial & Error Newsletter

Sep 26, 2012


This past Monday evening Susan Sharon of Maine Public Broadcasting, after speaking with Dennis’s attorney, Steve Peterson, broke the story about the latest DNA findings.

On Tuesday reporter Ann Kim’s story appeared in the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel The link of her story also appears at the bottom of this newsletter.

To review where the case stood before this development, please read the text of the handout we circulated at our booth last weekend at the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine: DNA and the Dechaine Case — An Update. The link appears below.

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2012 Common Ground Fair Handout

Sep 25, 2012

DNA and the Dennis Dechaine Case – An Update

In 2011 Judge Carl Bradford ruled that only DNA evidence could be entered in support of Dennis Dechaine’s 2008 motion for a new trial, a trial which Dechaine hoped would — after 24 years proclaiming his innocence — overthrow his 1989 conviction for the murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry. Supporting evidence Bradford disallowed included the conclusions of two renowned forensic pathologists, Dr. Cyril Wecht and Dr. Walter Hofmann, regarding time of death, which eliminated Dechaine as the killer.

The DNA evidence consisted of a partial profile of a male who was not Dechaine from a thumbnail clipping taken from Sarah that was inadvertently given to the defense in 1992. Tests showed that it was not the DNA of any male known to have possibly been in contact with Sarah alive or deceased. The state claimed that this DNA was the result of contamination from unsanitary conditions in the medical examiner’s facility, and was of no significance.

Read more: 2012 Common...

Trial & Error Newsletter

Jul 25, 2012

A letter from Dennis.

To My Supporters,

I first asked to have DNA testing done in my case before my trial in 1989. The same judge who denied my request then has now agreed to allow that testing. Even though in the early ’90s the Maine Attorney General’s Office destroyed what any reasonable person would deem crucial crime scene evidence, I feel strongly that enough evidence remains to yield results, as DNA testing has evolved over the years.

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Jun 20, 2012

The trial related to Dennis Dechaine’s 2010 suicide attempt at Maine State Prison ended on Tuesday, June 19, 2012, before it even began. The charges of felony drug trafficking and possession were reduced to misdemeanor possession, and Dennis pleaded no contest to the lesser charge.

Justice William S. Broderick then set the sentence at three months in prison and a $400 fine. The time to be served begins immediately and is likely to be completed before the motion-for-retrial hearing on the murder charge resumes after new DNA testing is performed. In other words, the possession sentence will not be tacked on to the end of the life sentence Dennis is currently serving, but rather the life sentence is being interrupted for the three months while he serves the
possession sentence.

Read more: “OTHER”...

Newsletter: Dear Supporters

Jun 17, 2012

The long-delayed hearing on the motion for a new trial based on the revised DNA statute was held in Portland on June 12, 13, and 14.

Dennis will now also go to trial in Rockland on June 19 charged with drug trafficking and possession for his April 2011 suicide attempt. We will send another newsletter out after the verdict.

Many times during this long struggle it has seemed that a critical corner had finally been turned and that a retrial lay close ahead. And many times we have been disappointed. But after the completion of the long-awaited hearing this past week, many of us are once again feeling encouraged. Perhaps someday we will look back on June 2012 as the time when we finally turned that corner, although a long road may yet lie ahead.

This newsletter departs from its usual form. The principal text consists of a summary of the hearings written by T&E board member Bernie Huebner, whose past employment as a newspaper reporter shines forth. This is followed by a more freewheeling overview by T & E VP Bill Bunting.

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HEARING SET FOR JUNE 12th thru 14th

Jun 7, 2012

The hearing that will decide whether to grant Dennis Dechaine a retrial will take place June12th, 13th and 14th. This proceeding is not a retrial, but rather a hearing to decide if there will be a retrial.

The original trial judge, Carl O. Bradford, will conduct the hearing and be the sole decision-maker in granting or denying a retrial. Maine law stipulates that only DNA evidence can be presented at the hearing. Last fall, Dennis’ lawyer, Steve Petersen, made a motion that would have also allowed admittance of time-of-death evidence, based on a “claim of innocence” precedent used in other states. Judge Bradford denied the motion.

The significance is that two nationally known forensic experts independently reviewed the time-of-death evidence last year, and both concluded that Dennis could not have committed the crime. But the forensic evidence will not be presented at the hearing and will be heard only at the retrial, if the retrial is granted. The same is true for evidence related to alternate suspects.

Read more: HEARING SET...

Dear Friends and Supporters

Jul 24, 2011

As most of you know, Dennis was found close to death in his cell and was hospitalized in April.  Although it was not clear to us for some time what had happened, it developed that he had tried to take his own life by taking an overdose of prescription drugs. He did this after the date for the Touch DNA testing had been postponed for the third or fourth time, and after seeing  men he knew in prison who were young 20 years ago now old and sitting in wheelchairs, ” helpless against attacks by  young hoodlums. He believed that the state would never allow him to leave this prison alive, and he wanted to escape this terrible future.

When Dennis was first returned to the prison he was treated very badly by prison security, but eventually he received helpful treatment from the mental health staff. He will now be kept in isolation in the SuperMax for some months as punishment for having taken drugs, but he is enjoying reading, studying French, exercising, and not having to respond 100 times a day to people asking how his case is coming. He has lost weight and the sparkle has returned. Our old Dennis is back. He would love to hear from you.

Read more: Dear Friends...

Newsletter : Dear Supporters

Jul 7, 2011

There are several reasons why so many months have passed since our last newsletter. Thank you all for being patient. In addition to working 50 hours a week, I have had various other responsibilities to attend to, one after the other. However this does not mean that our efforts to help Dennis ever slowed down. It seemed that every time we were about to put out a newsletter there was about to be an agreement reached between the state and Dennis’s lawyers over what remaining evidence was going to be tested for DNA, and also how and where it was going to be tested. At the end of March an agreement was finally reached, and the evidence has now been, or is now being, tested. The results could be of great importance if new DNA is discovered. We in Trial & Error do not know the details of these past two and a half years of negotiations, but we believe that if the state had wanted these materials to be tested it would have been done years ago.  But better late than never.

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