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

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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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For the first two weeks back, Dechaine said, he was on a strict suicide watch and he was not allowed to have any items in his cell except for a thin pad on the floor on which he slept. He said he now has a bunk and has been provided some reading and writing materials. He is allowed one hour per week for approved visitors such as family members, he said.

Dechaine said he was not taking any medications before his suicide attempt. He declined to say how he obtained the drugs he used on April 4, and said he has not answered questions about that from Department of Corrections investigators, because he is concerned about retribution.

In the mental health unit, Dechaine meets for one hour a week with a counselor, he said, and the only drug he is taking is a blood thinner to treat the effects of a clot suffered in the suicide attempt.

Dechaine said he has asked to be returned to the general prison population, but so far the request has been denied.

"It doesn't look promising," he said.

Dechaine's pending motion is based on a state law originally passed in 2001 and revised in 2006 that allows prisoners to seek new trials based on DNA evidence.

The evidence in question is a fragment of unidentified male DNA extracted from Sarah Cherry's clipped thumbnail five years after Dechaine's conviction. His attorney says the partial DNA profile discovered by scientists holds the key to finding the real killer. Prosecutors say the right man is behind bars, and the DNA could have come from any incidental contact Sarah Cherry had leading up to her death, or from contaminated nail clippers at her autopsy.

Sarah Cherry, a straight-A student at Bowdoin Central School, was kidnapped while baby-sitting on July 6, 1988.

The mother who had hired her to baby-sit came home around 3:20 p.m. and found a notebook and a receipt in her driveway, bearing the name Dennis Dechaine. Police began a search for both the missing girl and Dechaine, and about five hours later he was seen walking out of the woods about three miles north of the home where Sarah had been baby-sitting.

He told police that he had been fishing and had gotten lost and he could not find his truck. He denied having anything to do with Sarah's disappearance. Later that night, police found his pickup truck on a discontinued logging road nearby.

A search team found Sarah's body around noon on July 8, in the woods near the spot where Dechaine's truck was found. She had been stabbed about a dozen times, and was strangled to death with a scarf. The rope binding her wrists and the scarf had come from Dechaine's truck.

Dechaine says he went into the woods on July 6 to inject speed and to wander around. He claims he was alone the whole day, got lost, and someone must have grabbed his papers, the rope and the scarf from his truck.

Dechaine sounded despondent during the interview Friday, and while he did not expressly say that he was still suicidal, he indicated that his will to live was not strong.

"I'd rather not be here," Dechaine said.

When asked if he meant the prison's Special Management Unit, or if he meant he did not want to be alive, he said: "I'd rather not be here. I'll just leave it at that." 

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

tmaxwell@pressherald.com

 

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