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July 4, 2010

Did Dennis Dechaine kill Sarah Cherry?

By Trevor Maxwell tmaxwell@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

click image to enlarge

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Thirty-year-old Dennis Dechaine of Bowdoinham is escorted to his arraignment in the slaying of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry on July 12, 1988, four days after his arrest. Dechaine has been in custody since.

1988 file photo/The Associated Press

Additional Photos Below

COMING NEXT WEEK: In Dennis Dechaine’s latest bid for a new trial, the key piece of evidence is a fragment of unidentified male DNA, extracted by scientists in 1994 from a thumbnail clipping of 12-year-old murder victim Sarah Cherry. Serving a life sentence for the crime, the prisoner hopes this trace of genetic material can alter his fate.

The Maine Department of Corrections investigated the circumstances surrounding the emergency, and passed on the results of their probe to Knox County District Attorney Geoff Rushlau.

Rushlau and Denise Lord, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, declined to comment on details of the investigation.

"The matter is being reviewed for possible criminal charges," Rushlau said last week.

Peterson, Dechaine's lawyer, said any criminal charge arising from the April 5 incident would be dealt with separately from the DNA appeal.

"It will not affect that hearing at all," Peterson said.

VICTIM'S FAMILY SEEKS CLOSURE

Sarah Cherry's family members hope Dechaine's motion for a new trial will be denied and they will be afforded the closure they have been seeking since Sarah was kidnapped while babysitting on July 6, 1988.

Searchers found her body in nearby woods two days later. Sarah had been bound, gagged and sexually assaulted with sticks. She had been stabbed about a dozen times, and was strangled to death with a scarf.

"It's not right that he should be allowed to go on with this forever, to keep coming back to the courts time and time again," said Peg Cherry, Sarah's maternal grandmother.

Peg and her husband, Bud Cherry, live in Lisbon Falls, a short drive from the small town of Bowdoin, where Sarah lived with her mother and stepfather, Debbie and Chris Crosman.

Peg Cherry displays elementary school photographs of Sarah on cabinets. From her tidy living room, the 77-year-old grandmother can see where Sarah and her cousins used to play games of soccer, softball or tag.

Sarah would have been 34 years old on May 5.

Chris and Debbie Crosman declined to comment for this story because they say they still have difficulty discussing it more than two decades after their daughter's murder.

Many family members, including Peg Cherry, attended the trial in March 1989 at Knox County Superior Court in Rockland. Cherry has been in regular contact with prosecutors before and since. And no matter what Dechaine or his supporters say, she is certain he committed the crime.

"The evidence is overwhelming. There is no other answer," she said.

"He thought he was going to hoodwink everybody. Here is this pretty boy, really clean-cut, and he wants you to believe there's no way he could do it.

"Well, looks can be deceiving."

THE STATE'S POSITION

"No question, this was a circumstantial case, but sometimes that can be even more powerful than direct evidence," said William Stokes, the state prosecutor who inherited the Dechaine case from his predecessors in 1995.

Stokes said the state had more evidence against Dechaine than it does in many murder cases:

A notebook and receipt from Dechaine's truck were found in the driveway of the home where Sarah had been baby-sitting.

Dechaine was seen walking out of the woods in the general area where Sarah's body was later found.

His truck was found 450 feet from the site.

The scarf used to strangle Sarah and the rope binding her wrists had come from Dechaine's truck.

Two detectives and two corrections officers testified that Dechaine made incriminating statements on the day of his arrest, including, "It must be somebody else inside of me."

Dechaine's testimony at the trial also was a key piece of evidence, Stokes said.

Dechaine said he went into the woods on the afternoon of July 6 to inject drugs, and got lost at some point. In an interview with the state's chief psychologist after the arrest in 1988, Dechaine said his history of drug use began with marijuana around the age of 13, and he had occasionally used various drugs, including cocaine and amphetamines, since that time.

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Additional Photos

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Dennis Dechaine is seen at Maine State Prison in Thomaston in June 1992, about a month after filing a motion for a new trial. It was denied in July.

1992 file photo/The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram

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Accompanied by his attorney Steve Peterson, Dennis Dechaine listens to a reporter’s questions during an interview at the Maine State Prison in Warren on March 22. With a new appeal more than two decades after his conviction in the death of Sarah Cherry, no other case has been litigated in Maine’s court system for so long.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

 


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