Jessica Lynn Briggs, the murder victim

Before Anthony H. Sanborn Jr. was freed on bail in April, the state prosecutor then responsible for fighting to preserve his conviction told a judge during an in-chambers conference that the court needed to hear from Hope Cady, the only eyewitness to the murder for which Sanborn was convicted and sentenced to 70 years in prison.

On Tuesday, the first day of Sanborn’s post-conviction review hearing in Cumberland County Unified Court, Donald Macomber reiterated Cady’s importance to the case.

“If she were to recant or something like that, then we wouldn’t have much of a case,” Macomber said from the witness stand while being questioned by an attorney for Sanborn on the opening day of what is expected to be 2½ weeks of testimony.

Cady did recant at the April bail hearing, and testified that she had suffered from vision problems virtually all of her life and that she was not near the scene on the night of the murder. She said detectives coerced her into implicating Sanborn. But when Assistant Attorney General Paul Rucha cross-examined Macomber, his colleague in the AG’s Office, he highlighted how Cady, when interviewed in 2015 by an investigator for the New England Innocence Project, largely stuck to her story from Sanborn’s trial in 1992: that she saw Sanborn kill 16-year-old Jessica Briggs on the Maine State Pier in May 1989. Rucha also said Sanborn’s attorneys quoted a favorable portion of that report in court documents while omitting the larger point that Cady stuck to her story.

Attorney Amy Fairfield shows items from the Jessica Briggs murder investigation case file to witness James Daniels. Daniels is a former detective with the Portland Police Department who investigated the 1989 murder and had two boxes of files and evidence stored in his home. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

The opening statements by attorneys for Sanborn and the state of Maine offered starkly different interpretations of Sanborn’s 1992 conviction in the murder of Briggs, whom he had briefly dated.

Sanborn, who spent 27 years in prison, was freed on bail in April after Cady’s recantation, which was cited by the judge in her decision. 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.

DENYING POLICE TARGETED SANBORN

During his opening statement, Rucha told Justice Joyce Wheeler, who is presiding over the hearings, that she should not judge the facts of the original case by modern standards of police work, in which computers and digital technology make filing police reports and performing witness interviews much easier. He also rejected the notion that Sanborn was somehow pre-selected for prosecution.

“The petitioner is arguing this case focused in on Tony Sanborn at the very beginning,” Rucha said. “What the detectives did was, (they asked) who is close to Jessica Briggs? So they looked at boyfriends and ex-boyfriends. And Tony Sanborn was one of those.”

In his opening statement at the post-conviction review of Anthony Sanborn Jr. at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland on Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Paul Rucha said that Justice Joyce Wheeler should not judge the facts of the original case by modern standards of police work. Sanborn was convicted in 1992 of murdering Jessica Briggs in 1989. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

Briggs was stabbed to death and her body was found in Portland Harbor on the morning of May 24, 1989. Police believe Briggs’ grisly killing took place at the end of the state pier, which was then occupied by a Bath Iron Works dry dock.

Briggs, who had been in trouble with the law 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 busing tables at DiMillo’s floating restaurant on the waterfront. She was originally from Augusta.

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. But the most damaging testimony came from 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.

When she recanted her trial testimony in April, Cady said she was threatened by detectives if she did not testify a certain way.

Sanborn’s attorney, Amy Fairfield, described the 1989 investigation by Portland police detectives James Daniels and Daniel Young as a predetermined process, in which Sanborn was targeted soon after Briggs’ body was found and detectives worked backward to put on a show for the jury in order to win a conviction.

Donald Macomber, who assisted in the prosecution in the 1992 trial of Anthony Sanborn and still works for the Attorney General’s Office, answers a question from Sanborn’s attorney Amy Fairfield on Tuesday, the first day of Sanborn’s post-conviction review at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

“There are layers and layers in this case,” Fairfield said Tuesday. “What you have are facts that were manufactured, and then you have a cover-up of those facts. And sometimes the cover-up is layers and layers deep.”

POST-CONVICTION STANDARDS DIFFER

The hearings resemble a trial, but differ in important ways.

Unlike a criminal trial in which the state has a burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant committed a crime, in this case Sanborn’s attorneys must prove new facts that could not have been discovered before and are substantial enough that they would change the outcome of the verdict.

Macomber is in a unique position: As the secondary prosecutor assigned to Sanborn’s case in July 1992 next to Assistant Attorney General Pamela Ames, he has direct knowledge of how Sanborn’s case was handled nearly 25 years ago. His testimony Tuesday included his involvement in witness preparation interviews before Sanborn’s original trial.

Justice Joyce Wheeler presides over Tuesday’s proceedings. Wheeler granted bail to Sanborn in April, after Hope Cady, a key witness for the prosecution’s case in 1992, recanted her testimony. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

But Macomber is still employed by the Attorney General’s Office and handles all appeals by defendants, including Sanborn’s earlier request to have physical evidence retested in his case under the state’s DNA law. That’s a different process that overlapped with the filing of the post-conviction review petition now under consideration.

Daniels, the retired Portland police detective, also testified Tuesday and was asked why he only recently turned over two boxes of files in the Sanborn case that had been stored at his home for years.

Daniels said he took the files home when he unexpectedly retired in 1998 to take a job out of state. In the rush to clean out his belongings at the police station, he took home about eight boxes of materials, including two containing evidence and files in the Briggs murder case.

Daniels is expected to continue testifying Wednesday. Young, his partner in the case, is expected to follow him on the stand.

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

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