Anthony Sanborn Jr., right, looks toward the public seating area as the jury files out of court on Oct 27, 1992, during Sanborn’s murder trial. With him is Edwin P. Chester, one of his attorneys. Sanborn was convicted after a nine-day trial and sentenced to 70 years in prison. File photo/Doug Jones

A Maine man who has spent nearly three decades in prison for a 1989 murder he insists he did not commit said in court filings that his conviction was the result of a campaign of misconduct by prosecutors and Portland police to manipulate and coerce witnesses and withhold evidence in his case.

Amy Fairfield, the attorney for Anthony H. Sanborn Jr., said in a motion for bail filed Wednesday that Sanborn should be freed while a judge considers newly discovered evidence.

The 104-page motion that Fairfield filed in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court says the evidence includes that an eyewitness was legally blind at the time of the slaying, witnesses who have recanted their testimony and information that was suppressed by prosecutors.

Fairfield is asking a Portland judge to release Sanborn, vacate his indictment and conviction, or order a new trial in the killing of 16-year-old Jessica L. Briggs, who dated Sanborn briefly.

The state Attorney General’s Office is reviewing Fairfield’s filing and plans to oppose the motion for bail, spokesman Timothy Feeley said in an email Wednesday night.

Jessica L. Briggs, who dated Anthony Sanborn Jr. briefly, was 16 when she was killed in 1989.

Sanborn, who also was 16 at the time of the killing, faced the murder charge as an adult and was convicted in October 1992 after a nine-day trial. He was sentenced to 70 years in prison.

Central to claims of misconduct are the two Portland police officers assigned to the case, lead investigator Detective James Daniels and Detective Daniel Young, and Assistant Attorney General Pamela Ames, who prosecuted the case.

“Acting as a united front, the detectives and Ames waged a campaign of intimidation and deal-making in order to manufacture the testimonial evidence they needed to put Sanborn on trial,” Fairfield wrote.

She added later: “Meanwhile, Jessica Brigg’s killer remains unidentified to this day and possibly at large. Briggs and her family have been denied the justice they deserve because Detectives Daniels and Young and Assistant Attorney General Ames decided to build their case, brick by brick, based on what they wanted to be true, rather than on the evidence they actually had before them.”

Daniels retired from the Portland department in 1998 and now works as a private investigator. Reached by phone Wednesday, he said he didn’t remember many details of the case.

“It was quite a while ago,” said Daniels, who pursued the case from the time of Briggs’ murder in May 1989 until Sanborn’s conviction 3½ years later.

Daniels denied the accusations in Fairfield’s filing of misconduct by police and prosecutors, including the allegations that they focused on Sanborn when there was little to no evidence tying him to the killing.

“I would dispute the characterization of misconduct,” he said, adding that he planned to call the Attorney General’s Office about the application to find out how prosecutors planned to respond. “That’s all I can say at this point.”

Attempts to reach Young, who retired from the Portland department in 2005, were not successful Wednesday.

Ames, now a defense attorney in Waterville, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Attempts to contact Briggs’ mother were not successful Wednesday.

SUSPECT, VICTIM LIVED ON STREETS

According to court records and media accounts, the murder investigation began on a drizzly morning in May 1989, when police were called to the Maine State Pier, which at that time was partially occupied by a Bath Iron Works dry-dock.

Near a dumpster at the end of the pier behind the BIW receiving department, police found a pair of black high-heeled shoes, a woman’s earring, a pack of cigarettes, and a fresh pool of human blood. Drag marks pointed to an opening that led to the water. When divers pulled Briggs’ body from Casco Bay, they found her throat had been cut, and she was stabbed multiple times and nearly disemboweled.

Sanborn, like Briggs, was one of many Portland teenagers who often fled their home lives to stay on the streets, where they were free to drink and do drugs, go to parties and move around the city on foot or on bicycles, according to trial records. Many stayed with friends, sleeping on couches and at shelters, and congregated in city parks at night.

Anthony Sanborn is led from the Cumberland County Courthouse on April 19, 1990, while waiting to be arraigned in the murder of Jessica Briggs. Staff photo by Jack Milton

Both Briggs and Sanborn had been in trouble with the law before. When she died, Briggs was a runaway from the Maine Youth Center, which is now called Long Creek Youth Development Center.

Sanborn had been incarcerated there, too. He also was wanted by police to testify as a witness to an earlier, unrelated murder, but Sanborn skipped town on the day he was to testify to a Portland grand jury.

Fairfield writes that Portland police focused on Sanborn from the start, even when there was no physical evidence connecting him to the crime scene, and before a single witness implicated him to police.

To back up her allegations, Fairfield filed a raft of exhibits and excerpts from the trial transcript, as well as documents, one of which purports to show written proof of the suppression of evidence by the state in a coordinated fashion.

Prosecutors are required to turn over their evidence to the defense in a process called discovery. This includes all evidence that would either help the accused or impeach the credibility of a state’s witness.

But Fairfield alleges that Ames and Young colluded to withhold entire statements by witnesses dictated to police in the first-person, replacing them instead with summarized narratives written from Young’s point of view.

Fairfield included a copy of a police report taken from the prosecutor’s files that includes a hand-written sticky note with a reminder that three witness statements should be withheld from the defense. “Statements not sent as discovery per request of Det. Young 4/26/90,” one note says, next to the names of the witnesses. “To be changed to narrative reports,” says another attached to the same sheet statement.

The files turned over to the defense team were shorter, condensed summaries by Young and did not include the first-person accounts.

NEW DOCUMENTS ON EYEWITNESS

Fairfield also alleges that new evidence uncovered by her office shows that the state’s only eyewitness to the crime, Hope L. Cady, who was 13 years old and living on the streets when Briggs was killed, was legally blind at the time she identified Sanborn and Briggs from a distance, at night, on a poorly lit pier.

Documents that Fairfield said were never turned over to the defense show that Cady had serious pre-existing vision problems. Soon after the murder, she was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease, symptoms of which first surfaced before the murder and continued to intensify after, the court records show.

Less than 18 months after the murder and a full two years before the start of the trial, a doctor determined that Cady had 20/200 vision.

A Portland Press Herald clipping from Oct. 30, 1992, reports that Anthony H. Sanborn Jr. was convicted of stabbing Jessica L. Briggs and tossing her body into Portland Harbor.

“This means she needed to be 20 feet from an object in order to see it, when a person with normal vision could see it from 200 feet,” making her legally blind according to American Medical Association standards, Fairfield wrote.

Fairfield also included a portion of a recent interview with Cady performed by an independent investigative journalist. In that July 2016 conversation, Cady told the journalist that she has had vision problems since she was a kid, that she hated wearing her glasses and lost them frequently as a child. When asked why she testified at trial that her vision was not impaired when it was, she said she had a gap in her memory and suggested the case needed further review in court.

“That makes me wonder,” Cady said in the 2016 interview. “My mind is going 50 different directions. I’m wondering, why is there a gap? Like someone punching a hole in your memory. It sounds like they need to take this back to court and figure it out. My head is starting to spin.”

Other allegations include a secret deal made between the state and another key witness, Gerard Rossi, an adult friend and roommate of Sanborn’s who spent time with Sanborn at critical times before and after the murder, and would later tell police that Sanborn had confessed to him multiple times.

Fairfield alleges that police in Portland had photographic evidence that Rossi had engaged in sexual acts with a minor under the age of 14, and made a secret deal with Rossi not to pursue the sex charges in exchange for his damning testimony implicating Sanborn.

EXEMPLARY CONDUCT IN PRISON

In arguing for bail, Fairfield’s filing also includes testimonials about how Sanborn has spent his years in prison.

In letters written by relatives and people who met him while he has been imprisoned, a portrait emerges of a man who has been steadfast in proclaiming his innocence, while not becoming embittered by his sentence of 70 years. Instead, the letters say, Sanborn has taught adult-education classes at the Maine State Prison, helped lead a group for “long-distance” dads and created another group called “Your Money or Your Life,” intended to help inmates prepare for jobs outside of prison.

Several said Sanborn, who has married while in prison, tutors other inmates as they prepare to get high school equivalency diplomas.

The testimonials say Sanborn has not pushed to prove his innocence to others, but rather tries to demonstrate through his empathy that he could not be a killer.

“The most stunning aspect of Tony Sanborn is his steadiness and focus on others in light of his wrongful incarceration,” said Garrett Vail, who teaches a college-level English class at the prison. “This prison is a much better place because of Tony, who ironically, shouldn’t even be there.”

A man who has volunteered at the prison for 27 years, including time as a chaplain, said Sanborn is a leader in the prison and respected both by inmates and the staff.

“I support his journey, his release, a finding of innocence and a re-entry into a new life,” Bill Halpin wrote.

A woman who met Sanborn through his wife, Michelle Sanborn, also believes that Sanborn’s case was a miscarriage of justice.

“There was such a need to ‘solve’ this case that a young boy without family support and financial resources could easily be convicted of a crime he never committed,” Lisa Alexander wrote.

“I believe that Tony Sanborn is innocent and soon will be home where he belongs.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH