Foster Bates received a life sentence Friday for the 1994 rape and murder of a neighbor, but continued to maintain his innocence. He accused the court of racial bias.

Bates, 35, of Attleboro, Mass., said he did not receive a fair trial because the Cumberland County jury that heard his case was all Caucasian. He pleaded with Superior Court Justice Robert E. Crowley to throw out the jury verdict, and “put justice on the right track.”

Crowley rejected the plea. The jury did not believe Bates’ story that he had a consensual affair with the victim, Tammy Dickson, and neither did he, Crowley said.

Saying that Bates has “never told the truth about this case, ” Crowley sentenced him to 30 years for raping Dickson and life in prison for her murder.

Maine does not have parole, so Bates will spend the rest of his life in prison. It is the most severe sentence available to a Maine judge, and one reserved for the most serious cases.

Before the trial began in late July, Bates’ race was an issue.

Potential jurors were asked questions such as: “Would the fact that the person charged with a crime is a black male have any effect on your ability to be completely fair and impartial as a juror?” and “Would the fact that the person charged with a crime is a black male combined with the fact that the victim is a white female, have any effect on your ability to be completely impartial as a juror?”

That kind of questioning is usually enough to meet the constitutional standard of equal protection under the law in a state like Maine, which has an overwhelmingly white population. Courts have not viewed a lack of racial diversity on a jury itself as prejudicial, as long as the process used to choose the jury was free of bias.

But in a case such as this, where jurors hearing an allegation involving an African-American assailant and a white victim could be influenced by racial stereotypes, an all-white panel is still troubling, said David Lourie, chairman of the NAACP’s legal redress committee.

“It should be a matter of concern, ” Lourie said. “The problem is, Maine is nearly all white, and there is no system” to bring more diversity to jury pools.

Dickson‘s gagged and bound body was found in her South Portland apartment on Feb. 20, 1994. She appeared to have been dead for about three days. Her 18-month-old son, Marcus, lay severely dehydrated in the locked apartment.

Police suspected Bates early in their investigation. A neighbor of Dickson‘s said that she came down to her apartment one night, shaking in fear. Dickson told the woman she awoke to find Bates sitting by her bed, stroking her hair.

Another witness described a time when Dickson ran and hid when she saw Bates dropping by another neighbor’s apartment to pick up his son, who the friend was baby-sitting. Dickson explained that Bates “creeped me out, ” her friend said.

Police got a search warrant to take a blood sample from Bates, but it was not until last year that new DNA technology allowed them to make a genetic match with a sample of semen found on Dickson‘s body. When questioned, Bates said he never had sex with Dickson, and only knew her casually when they lived in the same building.

At his trial, Bates told a different story. He said that he and Dickson had a secret love affair, and he had sex with her the day that she died. He said he lied to police about the affair because he was afraid that as an African-American he would have been accused of her murder.

Bates broke down in tears when he testified about Dickson‘s death during his trial, and on Friday, he turned his back on Crowley and spoke directly to Dickson‘s mother and sister. They were sitting in the first row of the courtroom gallery.

“I am truly sorry for your loss, (but) I did not rape or murder Tammy. I would never take her life. I would not do that, that is not Foster Bates, ” he said.

Turning to Crowley, Bates pointed out the holes in the state’s case against him. There was no trauma to Dickson‘s genital area to indicate forced sex. There were no fingerprints or hairs belonging to Bates found in her apartment. A blood-stained towel was noticed by detectives, but never collected as evidence. Lost was a videotape of a six-hour interrogation of William Quinn, Dickson‘s former boyfriend, who was at one time the state’s prime suspect in the crime.

“Do I need any more evidence for reasonable doubt?” an exasperated Bates asked Crowley. “This all-white jury has made a horrendous mistake.”

A member of that jury attended the sentencing and said he was offended by Bates’ charge of bias. Barry Bernard, a business analyst, listened to testimony for 3 1/2 days and deliberated for parts of two more. He said he and his fellow jurors simply did not believe Bates.

“His testimony sounded like a bad made-for-TV movie, ” Bernard said. “He was his own worst enemy. When he testified – and he had to testify because of the DNA evidence – he just put the nail in his own coffin. He was simply not believable.”

Dickson‘s sister, Wanda Valliere, shook with emotion when Bates made his long address to Crowley, and dissolved in tears when the sentence was announced. Outside the courthouse, she told reporters that she had no doubt the right man was convicted.

“We were disgusted that he had the gall to even look at us, and try to pretend he was Tammy‘s friend. He knew what he had done, and he is still lying about it, ” she said. “Tammy knows and we know.”