AUGUSTA — Acknowledging “the substantial evidence of Dechaine’s guilt,” the Maine Supreme Judicial Court last July, and for the fourth time, upheld Dennis Dechaine’s conviction for the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry.
The most recent ruling denied Dechaine’s motion for a new trial based on DNA testing. “It is likely,” the court said, “that a jury examining the new, arguably inculpatory DNA evidence, along with ‘all the other evidence in the case, old and new,’ would reach the same verdict as did the original jury.”
The headline in this newspaper, reporting on the court’s ruling, read: “Door closing on long legal saga of convicted Maine killer Dennis Dechaine.” A Press Herald columnist concluded, “It is time for Dechaine’s champions to lay the case to rest.”
Nevertheless, an article in the Maine Sunday Telegram on Jan. 17 restated old claims of Dechaine’s supporters and ignored the facts described in the state supreme court’s July decision and the numerous state and federal court rulings before that.
The article claimed that Dechaine had requested DNA testing, but that this is “a request that has never been granted.” It paraphrased Dechaine’s supporters as saying that “the state’s own forensic examiner concluded that Cherry died after Dechaine was taken into police custody, a finding that wasn’t properly emphasized at trial.”
These statements are simply untrue. DNA evidence has been exhaustively analyzed at Mr. Dechaine’s request, but the results do not help him.
The DNA on three items closely associated with the girl he tortured and killed did not exclude Dechaine, though it did exclude the individual who Dechaine supporters have claimed was an alternative suspect. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court noted: “The experts all testified that only Dechaine, of the identified males compared, could not be excluded as a sole contributor of the male DNA found on the T-shirt, bra and scarf.”
The medical examiner testified at Dechaine’s trial that Sarah Cherry likely died July 6, 1988, within a few hours after she ate her lunch at noon, based on her stomach contents. She was kidnapped between noon and 3 p.m. July 6.
Even an expert hired by the defense in 1992 agreed with the state’s medical examiner that establishing the exact time of death is very difficult. The medical examiner told the jury he could not rule out the possibility that Dechaine may have been in custody at the time Sarah Cherry died from her injuries, but it was more likely that she died within hours of eating her undigested lunch, and Dechaine’s whereabouts at the time of her disappearance were unaccounted for until 8:45 p.m. on July 6.
The jury heard all the evidence concerning time of death, and it rejected Dechaine’s theory that she was killed after he had been taken into custody, at the very time that people were swarming the woods looking for the missing child.
The jury also heard:
• Items belonging to Dechaine were found in the driveway of the home where Sarah Cherry was abducted.
• Rope used to bind her was consistent with the rope found in Dechaine’s truck and with the rope found near the murder scene.
• Sarah Cherry suffered stab wounds from a small knife, and Dechaine’s penknife was mysteriously missing from his key chain when he was confronted.
• Dechaine’s truck was 400 feet from where Sarah Cherry’s body was found. Dechaine never offered an explanation of what he was doing in the area, other than that he was shooting up drugs.
• Dechaine made incriminating statements to a number of people.
The zeal to stir controversy should not be outweighed by the facts. In this case, the reporter failed to report all of the facts, including the extensive findings of five state and federal court rulings and the results of multiple DNA tests done at Mr. Dechaine’s request. Those tests only add to the mountain of evidence of Mr. Dechaine’s guilt.
— Special to the Press Herald