Trial and Error

The Outcry for Justice in the Dennis Dechaine Case

The Case - Trial and Error - Dennis Dechaine

Common-Sense Defense

It is exactly because the State’s case against Dennis Dechaine consists of nothing but circumstantial evidence that his supporters have countered by offering scientific evidence: blood typing; DNA; the time-of-death exclusion; the complete absence of the victim’s hair, blood, fingerprints, or fiber on Dennis or in his truck.  It is thus easy to overlook “the common sense argument” for his innocence: all the things a man would not do if he were guilty.  

Here they are.  Decide for yourself.  Would a guilty man… 

1) …request and offer to pay for DNA testing prior to his trial (a request denied by the judge)?

2) …fleeing a crime scene, give his real name to strangers when they offered him help?

3) …eager to escape, get out of the strangers’ vehicle and voluntarily enter a police car searching for the same girl he had just attacked? 

4) …help the police hunt for his truck, especially if he had just used it to kidnap the victim?

5) …give permission for the police to tow his truck to the State Police crime lab in order to search it exhaustively? 

Not likely.  But an innocent man—like Dennis Dechaine—would, which is why he deserves a retrial.

What Happened?

Rush to judgment meets the wrong person / time / place

Dennis Dechaine, a 30-year-old otherwise hard-working Bowdoinham, Maine farmer with two college degrees, spent the afternoon of July 6, 1988 foolishly but innocently getting high and rambling around in the woods. He emerged into the waiting arms of law enforcement, who were out looking for a missing girl.

Two days later, the stark reality of the situation came clear: Sarah Cherry, a 12-year-old girl abducted from her first baby-sitting job, was found tortured, murdered and partially buried under leaves in the woods. Because the actual perpetrator had used objects taken from Dennis’s parked truck to commit the crime, and misled police by dropping items identifying the young farmer at the site of the initial abduction, investigators ignored or contaminated significant evidence of the real perpetrator’s identity and put all their energy into building a case against the man they already had in custody.

Read more: What Happened?

Trial Transcripts


Hearing on Motion to Continue (for DNA testing) 27 January 1989

Transcript of Trial

The entire 1,500 page transcript of the March, 1989, trial of Dennis Dechaine in Knox County Superior Court in Rockland Maine. The trial began on Monday, March 6 with jury selection.  The transcript’s
Volume 1 begins on Tuesday, March 7, and went to the Jury two weeks later on Friday the 17th. At noon on Saturday, after 10 hours of deliberation, the jury returned with guilty verdicts.

The transcript itself is exactly as it was produced by the court reporter. Hence there are passages which are confusing, sometimes because of the reporter’s mis-hearing what was said, or because of typos. There are also unfortunately several instances of missing and even one or two rumpled pages.

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Summary of Evidence

By former federal agent James P. Moore (1935-2022)

The late Jim Moore retired from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as ATF’s agent-in-charge for Maine and New Hampshire. His career included two years with the Federal Organized Crime & Racketeering Strike Force and two years with INTERPOL where he directed international investigations of robbery, rape, murder and terrorism. Moore had developed a high regard for Maine law enforcement, so when charges surfaced that Dennis Dechaine had been wrongfully convicted for the 1988 murder of Sarah Cherry, he decided to see for himself. At that time, Moore regarded Dechaine’s supporters “as a bunch of bird brains out to trash law enforcement.” However, while conducting an independent investigation at his own expense, Moore concluded that Dechaine indeed had been wrongfully convicted. He has since written two books on the case, Human Sacrifice and State Secrets, all proceeds of which are donated to securing a retrial for Dechaine.

What follows is Moore’s summary of the case, including all evidence presented by the State. It is part of a report Moore submitted to Defense Attorney Tom Connolly in December, 1992. The indented portions of the summary, which indicate the state’s evidence, had been sent to Assistant Attorney General Eric Wright, who prosecuted Dechaine. Moore asked Wright to inform him if any significant element of the State’s case had been omitted. As of May, 2012, neither Wright nor anyone else has ever indicated any correction, defect or deficiency in Moore’s summary.

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Questionable State Actions and Official Misconduct in Dechaine Case

The list below concerns the case of Dennis Dechaine, convicted in 1989 for the brutal murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry. Based on police reports, documents in the AG's previously concealed "confidential file" and the conclusions of two eminent forensic pathologists who have examined the medical examiner’s report, it can be shown that the real killer staged the crime scene with items lifted from Dechaine’s unoccupied truck. Police decided immediately and erroneously, based on that evidence, that Dechaine was guilty, and prosecutors committed numerous improper acts—before, during, and since the trial—to achieve and defend Dechaine’s conviction.

Read more: Questionable...

Legal Brief Cites Courts Errors

Click this link, Brief for Appellant, to view the brief filed by Dennis's attorney, Steve Peterson, with the Maine Law Court on September 14, 2014. The brief appeals the decision of Judge Carl Bradford to deny Dennis’s motion for retrial, and it consists of two parts:

1) A summary of all the DNA testing conducted in the case, from the court's original denial of such testing before the 1989 trial, through the November, 2013 hearing on the results of the "touch DNA" testing.

2) Peterson's discussion of three issues:

        A. The court erred in not granting a new trial based upon the DNA evidence;
        B. The presiding justice erred in not recusing himself from the DNA hearing;
        C. The court erred in not allowing additional evidence of actual innocence."

Response to Maine Supreme Court Ruling

Trial & Error’s Response to Certain Passages in the July 2015 Ruling of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court Denying Dennis Dechaine’s Motion for a New Trial under Maine’s Post Conviction DNA Statute

As a considerable portion of the ruling consisted of sections taken from federal magistrate David Cohen’s 2000 denial of Dennis’s federal habeas appeal, quotes from Cohen will be so noted.


(From Cohen) Forensic chemist Judith Brinkman testified: “There was nothing that led me to believe that there was a mixture [of bloods]. If someone had scratched someone hard enough to make them bleed and cause crust underneath the fingernails, you would expect to find tissue, some type of skin material or something indicating that there you know, that there had been scratching or you would expect to find some type of trauma to the nail such as broken nails or something like that and there didn’t they didn’t  appear to be that way.” . . . Brinkman reported that she had spoken with Jennifer Mehavolin of the California testing laboratory, who had advised that based on the small amount of blood available on the thumbnail clippings, it did not “sound like the possibility of getting good results.”

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Response to Attorney General Mills

Below is May 12, 2016 response by Trial and Error President Carol Waltman to a February 10, 2016 op-ed piece in the Portland Press Herald by Maine Attorney General Janet Mills. Mills contended that there is "a mountain of evidence” that Dennis Dechaine is guilty.

Maine Voices: Questions remain about Dennis Dechaine prosecution

The Trial & Error organization still is committed to overturning his murder conviction. 


In 1989 Dennis Dechaine, a childhood friend from Madawaska, was convicted of the torture murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry in the town of Bowdoin.

All of us who knew Dennis knew that he could not have committed such a crime, and so I started an organization called Trial & Error to bring attention to what we were certain was a terrible injustice.

Read more: Response to...

Alternative Suspect

There are at least several alternative suspects in the murder of Sarah Cherry. The following relates to one of them.

Accusations of Guilt of Douglas Senecal

The following are instances of accusations, both direct and implied—and two examples that may be interpreted as self-accusations—of the guilt of Douglas Senecal of the July, 1988 murder of Sarah Cherry. Some are taken from the official transcript of the July, 1992 Superior Court hearing of Dechaine’s motion for a retrial, which focused primarily on alternative suspect Senecal. Other instances are extra-judicial. Taken together they involve 17 different individuals: Sheila Appleton; Denise Brewer Whitmore; Sandra Dee Pinkham and her ex-husband Charles Campbell; Steve Senecal; Dick Woerter; Margaret Steele; Robert LaPierre; Ralph Jones; Pamela Babine; Kristin Comee; Patrick Senecal; Gerald Paradis; Amanda Highsmith; Robert Holmes; Tim Holt; and Linda Cook.

Read more: Alternative...

Read the Book


Human Sacrifice: On the Altar of Injustice

High-quality soft-cover edition, 418 pages, 

is exclusively available from Trial & Error for $15, with free shipping.

Click to order!