Trial and Error

The Outcry for Justice in the Dennis Dechaine Case

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.

Since then, many serious questions have been raised about how this case was handled, but the Maine attorney general and the courts have refused to grant Dennis a retrial in which all of the evidence could be presented to a jury, which is all that Dennis and Trial & Error have asked for.

In her response to an evident reporting error in the Jan. 17 Maine Sunday Telegram story regarding the Dechaine case, Attorney General Janet Mills correctly said that “DNA evidence had been exhaustively analyzed at Mr. Dechaine’s request.”

What she did not say is that all she’s referring to is DNA remaining after the AG’s Office incinerated – during an active appeal – the rape kit, an unidentified hair from the victim’s body, and other crime scene evidence. Before the 1989 trial, the state successfully opposed Dechaine’s request for DNA testing, at which time there would have been ample intact DNA available.

The most significant DNA finding to date remains the male DNA found under one of the victim’s thumbnails, DNA that is not Dechaine’s.

Inexplicably, the ruling from the July 2016 Maine Supreme Judicial Court failed to recognize that the scarf used in the crime belonged to Dechaine – it was removed from his truck by the killer or killers – and thus of course bore his DNA.

The same ruling dismissed the significance of DNA from which the prime alternative suspect could also not be excluded, and for whose presence no exculpatory explanation exists. In fact, the sister (now deceased) of this same alternative suspect told a friend he admitted committing the crime. A statement written by the sister, taken by the Maine State Police and forwarded to the AG’s Office, is now missing.

DNA is readily transferred, as the state’s own experts have testified, as in their attempt to explain the male DNA under the victim’s thumbnail as contamination. DNA from the scarf very likely was transferred to the bra and shirt through handling of the items by the state, if not during the crime itself.

Regarding the time of death, Mills lays great weight on the observation by the medical examiner of undigested food in the stomach. In fact, in a state of terror the digestive system typically shuts down, rendering undigested food useless as a marker of time. Of much greater significance was the progression of rigor mortis, which, even according to the state’s examiner – although the jury never understood this – placed the time of death after Dechaine had been in the custody of the police. This finding has been affirmed by two of the nation’s leading forensic pathologists, Drs. Cyril Wecht and Walter Hofman.

The pathologist referred to by Millls as having been hired by “the defense” (in fact, retired ATF agent Jim Moore commissioned the report) was under the mistaken belief that the body had been preserved by being buried in “cool earth,” as she stated no less than seven times in her report.

The crime took place in early July with the ambient temperature close to 90 degrees, and the body was covered only with sticks and leaves. Her finding thus has no forensic validity, although Mills is not the first official in the Attorney General’s Office to claim otherwise.

The papers in the driveway (of 180 items in Dechaine’s truck, the only two with his name on them) were clearly planted, as they were found beyond tire tracks that bore no impressions of the rear snow tires on Dechaine’s truck, i.e., Dechaine’s truck was never at the abduction site, and the papers did not fall out during a struggle.

Regarding the stab wounds made by a small knife, there was testimony that the small knife previously on Dechaine’s key chain had been missing for months.

The incriminating statements which two detectives testified Dechaine made are in one case not supported and in the other contradicted by the detectives’ actual notes; the latter were clearly altered, changing a protestation of innocence into a confession.


Carol Waltman of Madawaska is the president of Trial & Error, a group dedicated to overturning the murder conviction of Dennis Dechaine.

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