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July 4, 2010

Did Dennis Dechaine kill Sarah Cherry?

By Trevor Maxwell
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 3)

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.

During cross-examination at his trial, Dechaine conceded that his memory of the afternoon of July 6 was not as sharp as it might have been if he had not been using the drugs. But he insisted that he was not in an altered state of consciousness, and that he never saw Sarah Cherry that day. Dechaine believes another man took the items from his truck and used them to frame him.

Stokes takes offense at the accusations made by some of Dechaine's supporters, who claim that he and others within the Attorney General's Office have worked to protect the police and to hide and distort evidence pointing away from Dechaine.

"They have their point of view," Stokes said. "They are entitled to their point of view. What I do have a problem with is the personal attacks."

Stokes, an Augusta city councilor who also has served on the school board, said people sometimes ask him whether Trial and Error, the advocacy group that backs Dechaine, might be right in proclaiming his innocence.

"They're not trying to offend me, but I look at them and say, 'Do you really think I would fight and use my skills in the courtroom to keep someone in prison who I believe to be innocent?' " Stokes said.

"Consider the accusations that have been made, that we are basically conspiring to conceal evidence to keep a man we know is innocent in prison," he said. "That is personally very offensive to me, and I'm sure it's offensive to everyone else who bears the brunt of it."


At the Maine State Prison, Dechaine awaits the upcoming hearing with "reserved hope." There are some questions about his case that Dechaine wants the public to consider.

He noted that police never found physical evidence, not a hair, fiber or drop of blood, connecting him and Sarah Cherry. Investigators never found the knife used to stab Sarah, or her missing panties.

When the police dog tracked from Dechaine's truck into the woods, the dog took investigators on a few indirect routes, but did not lead to Sarah's body. Also, the dog did not find a scent of Sarah in Dechaine's truck, and that information was not provided to his lawyers before the trial.

"Had I abducted Sarah Cherry while in a complete stupor, which is what would have been required here, evidence of her presence in my vehicle would have been undeniable," Dechaine said. "Had I abducted Sarah Cherry in a complete stupor and killed her in the way that she was killed, I would have been covered in blood."

Dechaine said he would not have pushed for DNA testing of all the evidence, ever since the beginning of the case, if he had anything to hide.

More than anything, though, Dechaine said his own personality demonstrates that he was not capable of committing the acts that were perpetrated on the 12-year-old victim.

"I dare anybody to find a single incidence of violence in my life -- ever," he said. "It's not in my being. It's not who I am."

Peg Cherry says that claim of innocence has a hollow ring, in light of all the evidence against Dechaine. It defies common sense, Cherry said, to believe that anyone other than Dechaine could have been the one who killed her granddaughter.

In Lisbon Falls, Peg and Bud Cherry go about their own routines, supported by their community. They try not to get worked up by the actions of Dechaine's supporters.

Occasionally the phone rings and it is Bill Stokes, keeping them posted on a process that Peg Cherry describes as tiring.

"With each of these appeals, we keep thinking that it's going to be the last one, and then it isn't," she said.

Whenever Dechaine's pending motion goes to court, Cherry intends to be there.

"They're not going to get rid of us," she said. "As long as I can physically get in there, I will -- to my dying breath. And she is worth it."

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

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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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