July 25, 2010

Dechaine: 'What I sensed ... was relief'

In his first interview since trying to kill himself, Dennis Dechaine reveals his state of mind.

By Trevor Maxwell tmaxwell@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Prisoner Dennis Dechaine, in his first interview with the media since his suicide attempt in April, said Friday he believes prosecutors have charged him with trafficking in prison contraband as payback for his outspokenness about his case, and also to undermine his pending motion for a new trial.

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Joined by his attorney Steve Peterson, left, of Rockport, Dennis Dechaine speaks to a reporter at the Maine State Prison in Warren in March. Dechaine, incarcerated since his arrest and subsequent conviction for the 1988 slaying of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry in Bowdoin, has a court hearing in September which his attorney has described as his “last, best chance” at a new trial.

2010 file photo by The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram

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"This is nothing more than a political ploy," Dechaine said in a 30-minute telephone interview from the mental health unit at the Maine State Prison in Warren.

"I think it's a case of kicking a man when he is down," he said.

Chris Fernald, an assistant district attorney for Knox County, declined to comment specifically about the trafficking charge against Dechaine, which was handed up by a grand jury July 15. But Fernald said it is not uncommon for prisoners serving life sentences to be charged with other crimes during their incarcerations.

"If we didn't prosecute these individuals, then basically the message would be sent to the inmates that if you are serving a life sentence you can do anything you want," Fernald said.

Dechaine, 52, was convicted by a jury and sent to prison for life for the 1988 kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry in the small Sagadahoc County town of Bowdoin. He claims that he is innocent, but four court appeals at the state and federal levels have failed.

His latest motion for a new trial, filed by his attorney in August 2008, is tentatively set to be heard by a judge in September.

Dechaine said he tried to commit suicide on April 4 by overdosing on a combination of morphine and Klonopin inside his cell. The next morning, guards found him unconscious, with an extremely low pulse rate and blood pressure. He was taken by helicopter to a Portland hospital, where he spent the next two weeks recovering before being sent back to the prison.

The Department of Corrections investigated the incident and Knox County prosecutors sought charges against him. No date has been set for his arraignment.

Until Friday, Dechaine had been off limits to the media since his hospitalization. A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections has said there were several reasons for prohibiting interviews of Dechaine in that time frame, but she said those reasons are confidential.

The suicide attempt raised questions about why Dechaine would try to end his life when he is just months away from a court hearing that has been described by his attorney as Dechaine's "last, best chance" at getting a new trial.

On Friday, Dechaine explained that by early April the cumulative impact of his years in prison had pushed him to a state of despair. Also, he came to believe that his appeal could not succeed, particularly because it will be heard by the same judge who sentenced him.

But even more than his doubts about the court proceedings, Dechaine said he arrived at the suicide decision because he felt that the life he could have had outside of prison had already been lost.

"Even if I do overturn my case, the best years of my life have been taken from me," he said. "I can't start a family. I'm too old to start a business. That is depressing."

"Oddly enough, what I sensed when I made the decision (to kill myself) was a sense of relief," Dechaine said.

He said he was devastated when he regained consciousness at Maine Medical Center. Dechaine said his outlook on life improved during his hospital stay thanks to the kindness of the medical staff, but that outlook deteriorated when he was returned to the prison. He said he has never attempted suicide before, and this is the first time that he has been housed in the prison's mental health unit, which consists of two areas of 16 cells.

(Continued on page 2)

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