Beginning Tuesday, convicted murderer Anthony H. Sanborn Jr. will return to Cumberland County Unified Court for a hearing in an ongoing bid to clear his name of the 1989 murder of his ex-girlfriend.

Sanborn, who spent 27 years in prison, was freed on bail April 13, after the only eyewitness to the murder recanted her testimony. Sanborn is the first person convicted of murder in recent state history to be released on bail because of questions about the legitimacy of his conviction.

Jessica L. Briggs, the murder victim

Now 45, Sanborn has spent the last six months living with his wife, Michelle, and readjusting to life outside prison. The hearings, scheduled to last 12 days, will be an opportunity for Sanborn’s defense attorneys to re-examine the way prosecutors won a conviction in 1992 and whether Sanborn’s rights were violated in the process.

The state, which is usually charged with proving crimes beyond a reasonable doubt, will be in the unusual position of defending its previous work, and proving that Sanborn was in fact guilty, that police acted appropriately, and his conviction should stand.

Here are some details on Sanborn’s case, and what could happen during the review:

Q: Who was the victim?

A: Sanborn was convicted of the stabbing death of Jessica L. Briggs, 16, whose body was found dumped in Portland Harbor on the morning of May 24, 1989. Sanborn and Briggs dated briefly for several weeks. Police believe Briggs’ grisly murder took place at the end of the Maine State Pier, which was then occupied by a Bath Iron Works dry dock. Briggs, who had been in trouble with the law before and had spent time at the Maine Youth Center, was trying to get her life back on track, living with the family of a friend in Portland and working busing tables at DiMillo’s floating restaurant on the waterfront. She was originally from Augusta.

Q: What were the accusations implicating Sanborn in Briggs’ murder?

A: Prosecutors alleged that Sanborn, 16, was angry with Briggs the previous day, had been seen looking for her and showed another person a knife that he had. Sanborn also was implicated by a former roommate, Gerard Rossi, who told police that Sanborn, on multiple occasions, admitted to killing Briggs. Sanborn was also implicated by prosecution witness Hope Cady, who was 13 at the time of the killing. Cady told police she was in a concealed position on a nearby pier, saw the killing, and identified Sanborn as the killer.

In April, Cady recanted her trial testimony, saying she was threatened by detectives if she did not testify a certain way. It was her recantation that Justice Joyce A. Wheeler, who is hearing Sanborn’s post-conviction review, cited as a factor in granting Sanborn bail.

Q: What is post-conviction review?

A: Post-conviction review is a legal process for people convicted of crimes to bring new information, such as previously unanalyzed DNA evidence or witness testimony, to bear on the original conviction, and have a judge determine whether a remedy such as a new trial or a dismissal of the charges is warranted. Maine law requires that if new evidence or new facts are discovered in a case, the post-conviction review process must be filed within one year.

Q: How long is Sanborn’s hearing expected to last?

A: The courts have scheduled the post-conviction hearing for 12 days, until Oct. 25.

Q: Who are the attorneys on each side?

A: For the state, Assistant Attorneys General Meg Elam and Paul Rucha will argue to preserve Sanborn’s conviction.

Sanborn’s private defense attorneys are Amy Fairfield and Timothy Zerillo, who will argue that Sanborn is innocent of the murder and that police officers were guilty of misconduct and perjury during the investigation and trial.

Q: How could the process end?

A: State law gives Wheeler latitude to determine what relief, if any, is appropriate. She could vacate the 1992 jury verdict that convicted Sanborn, order a new trial, release him on time served, or give him a new sentence. If Sanborn’s attorneys are unsuccessful, Wheeler also could order him to return to prison. The state also could concede the case, which would likely spur a decision by Wheeler regarding the merits of Sanborn’s case.

Q: Who decides whether the petition has merit?

A: Wheeler, who has presided over the review process, will decide whether Sanborn’s post-conviction claims have merit. There is no jury.

Q: What is Sanborn’s defense?

A: In court documents, Sanborn’s attorneys have argued he is actually innocent, and that police and prosecutors secured his conviction through deceit, coercion and threats against witnesses, and that authorities withheld evidence that would have been helpful to Sanborn’s defense. Such evidence is known as Brady material, and plays a central role in Sanborn’s argument for vacating his conviction.

Q: What is the Brady doctrine, and how does it relate to the Sanborn case?

A: The Brady doctrine, named for a party in a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case, established that during a criminal trial, prosecutors must turn over all evidence that could be helpful to a defendant. A corollary to the Brady doctrine extends that principle to all information that could undermine the credibility of a witness testifying for the prosecution. One example would be if prosecutors offer a witness some type of deal in exchange for testimony, such as immunity from prosecution.

Q: What is the state’s argument in preserving Sanborn’s conviction?

A: The state has argued that Sanborn’s claims alleging prosecutorial misconduct are untrue, or include information that is not new, and therefore cannot be used to bring a post-conviction claim, since that would run afoul of time provisions in Maine’s post-conviction review statute. The state also denies any wrongdoing during the investigation, and has denied claims that officers coerced or threatened witnesses.

Q: What is the judge’s judicial background?

A: Wheeler is an active-retired judge who was appointed by the court to oversee Sanborn’s post-conviction review. Wheeler was first appointed to the bench in 1994 at the District Court level. She was promoted to Superior Court in June 2005, and retired from the bench in March 2015. She was re-appointed to active-retired status in May 2015. Active-retired judges do not carry a full workload, and often move around the state from court to court for their assignments.

Q: How will the hearing process unfold?

A: In a criminal trial, the state is bringing charges and has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant is guilty. A post-conviction review is different. Because in this case, Sanborn is the party responsible for bringing the case to court, his attorneys will argue their case first. They will do it by introducing exhibits and calling witnesses, who will give direct testimony under oath. Those witnesses may also be questioned by the state. The state will then respond with their own list of witnesses, who can also be questioned by Sanborn’s legal team.

Q: Who is expected to testify?

A: More than 60 people have been named as potential witnesses, but who will be called – and in what order – is up to the attorneys.

Q: Who are potential witnesses for Sanborn?

A: Sanborn’s attorneys may want Sanborn to testify himself, along with the two retired Portland police detectives who investigated the murder, James Daniels and Daniel Young. The lead prosecutor in the original murder case, former Assistant Attorney General Pamela Ames, now a defense attorney in private practice in Waterville, also may be called.

Another possible witness is John Rudolf, an independent journalist who has been investigating the Sanborn case for years and who has shared information with Sanborn’s attorneys. Other important testimony may come from Hope Cady, the eyewitness who recanted her original testimony. Others prospects include members of Sanborn’s original defense team, Ned Chester and Neale Duffett, and people who knew Sanborn at the time of the murder. There are also experts who have been designated by both sides.

Q: Who are potential witnesses for the state?

A: On the attorney general’s list of witnesses are both Duffett and Chester, Sanborn’s original attorneys. Several police officers also could testify, including former Portland Police Chief Timothy Burton, who served in that post until 2012, and two current Portland detectives, Andrew Hagerty and Richard Vogel, who were assigned to assist the Attorney General’s Office after Sanborn was granted bail. The state also could call Lorea Gillespie, an investigator with the New England Innocence Project, who in 2015 interviewed Hope Cady in Florida about her 1992 trial testimony. At that time, Cady stuck to her story from the trial and told Gillespie that she saw Sanborn kill Jessica Briggs.

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

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