GRAY – As a news editor myself, I’m always reading for the “editorial slant.” I found the Dennis Dechaine series quite balanced, yet intriguing. In Maine for only three years, and hailing from New Jersey where Megan’s Law originated after an equally heinous murder of an innocent child, I’ve been a proponent of the death penalty for certain crimes. I bear no sympathy for perpetrators of such unthinkable crimes.

Reading Trevor Maxwell’s stories, I pondered, “If Maine had the death penalty, we wouldn’t have been supporting this guy for the last 22 years.”

I reflected on the horror that both Sarah Cherry’s parents and Megan Kanka’s family in New Jersey continue to endure. I became intrigued at the Trial and Error group, so convinced of Dechaine’s innocence. They couldn’t be right and not have prevailed after 22 years.

CRACKING THE BOOK

I really wanted to read James Moore’s book, “Human Sacrifice,” mentioned in Maxwell’s stories. Aware that the proceeds from the sale went to the Dechaine defense fund, I was reluctant to “contribute.”

Curiosity becoming the victor, I ordered the book. In two days I devoured all 418 pages. I re-read and thumbed back and forth, getting more incensed by the page. Moore portrays a miscarriage of justice that would be unbelievable in a John Grisham crime novel.

Recently, a reader from Waldoboro commented that he thought the Dechaine series running on Independence Day was inappropriate. In some ways he’s correct; this must be a horrid time for Sarah’s family, the state is brimming with summer tourists, and “Vacationland” is supposed to be a happy place.

His comments explain the zeal with which the police worked in July 1988 to see that justice was done. “It’s the height of the tourist season, this is the worst crime ever committed here, and this is ‘Vacationland,’ crimes like this don’t happen here, and, above all, the family of this child needs closure. This crime needs to be solved ASAP!”

Dechaine was an easy suspect. His truck, belongings and drug-impaired self, all in the vicinity of the crime, created an open-and-shut case for police. Based on trial transcripts, notes and police reports, the entire Dechaine saga is reminiscent of the Keystone Cops, Good Ol’ Boys, and Catch 22 all rolled into one giant nightmare.

Everybody makes mistakes, but our legal system, through its appellate process and other legal mechanisms, is designed to assure that justice is ultimately done. In spite of numerous efforts by the Dechaine defense team, it is obvious that our judicial system has failed repeatedly.

The lack of hard evidence against Dechaine is far more compelling than the prosecution’s circumstantial evidence. The judge disallowed evidence of the existence of two other viable suspects, both known child sex offenders.

The time of death, per the testimony of the state coroner — if one could decode the rhetoric and do the math — places Dechaine in the custody of police while Sarah was being murdered. There’s DNA evidence that doesn’t match Dechaine’s. I could go on …

The point is that the system has failed Dennis Dechaine and the family of Sarah Cherry. Her murderer is still out there, and an innocent man is imprisoned. One can’t begin to imagine the eternal pain felt by little Sarah’s family. In spite of the need for closure, one has to conclude that they would want the real murderer incarcerated.

“Human Sacrifice” brought mixed emotions. My assumption of fairness in our judicial system has been obliterated, yet I am glad to have provided even some support for Dechaine’s defense. I now wonder if the death penalty should be abolished nationwide. I’m sure the judicial ineptness doesn’t stop at Maine’s borders.

I commend the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram for having the courage to tell the story and inspire readers like me to look at all the facts, not just what the jury saw and heard.

WILL A RETRIAL HAPPEN?

The Dechaine team will seek a retrial in September based on DNA information. I contacted Moore regarding his book and to see what might be done in support of Dechaine.

To my suggestion of a pardon request, he replied, “Dennis has consistently rejected suggestions that he apply for a pardon, since that would imply he’d done something to be pardoned for. He and some Trial and Error members have urged the governor to commission an honest, objective, bona fide inquiry into the case but to no avail.”

He did suggest letters be sent to the Attorney General’s office.

Maybe it’s not too late.

 

– Special to the Telegram