ROCKLAND – Dennis Dechaine pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a charge of trafficking in contraband at the Maine State Prison, where he is serving a life sentence for the murder of a 12-year-old girl.

Dechaine, 52, appeared briefly in Knox County Superior Court via closed-circuit television from the nearby prison in Warren. He did not speak during the hearing, except to tell the judge that he understood the felony charge and that he wished to enter a not guilty plea.

Prosecutors say Dechaine illegally possessed morphine and the prescription anti-anxiety drug Klonopin.

Dechaine was convicted of kidnapping, torturing and murdering Sarah Cherry in the Sagadahoc County town of Bowdoin in 1988. He says he is innocent, and his latest motion for a new trial is pending, with a hearing expected this fall.

In prior interviews and in a letter sent to The Portland Press Herald last month, Dechaine said he used the morphine and Klonopin in a suicide attempt on April 4. He would not disclose how he got the drugs, and he said he has not cooperated with prison investigators or the District Attorney’s Office.

Corrections officers found Dechaine near death in his cell. He was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he spent two weeks recovering. Since his return to prison, Dechaine has been in the specialized mental health unit.

Dechaine’s lawyer for the pending appeal, Steve Peterson of Rockport, has said that the trafficking charge should not have any effect on the pending bid for a new trial. The trafficking charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. If Dechaine is convicted, he will serve his sentence immediately and then his life term will resume.

There would be no cumulative impact on Dechaine’s time in prison because a life sentence in Maine means the inmate serves until his death, with no possibility of early release.

District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said that although a conviction would not change Dechaine’s overall sentence, criminal charges must be brought against inmates who break the law.

Rushlau said he has prosecuted two other inmates who were serving life sentences. Both of those men were convicted of assaults within the prison.

“We do hope it sends some type of message that they are not immune to the consequences of criminal activity,” Rushlau said after Wednesday’s hearing.

Peterson is expected to be appointed to represent Dechaine on the trafficking charge. He and Rushlau will have 30 days to submit motions in the case.

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

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