July 11, 2010

The Hometown Perspective: For those who knew the young man, disbelief endures

By Matt Wickenheiser mwickenheiser@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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In a yearbook photo from Dennis Dechaine's junior year at Madawaska High School, the teenage Dechaine, left, holds a camera that he used when he was on the yearbook staff. "The camera was bigger than him," said his childhood friend Carol Waltman.

Courtesy photo

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Jesse and Carol Waltman of Madawaska were childhood friends of Dennis Dechaine and remain among his supporters today. Carol Waltman is the founder of Trial and Error, the group advocating for Dechaine's freedom.

Maatt Wickenheiser photo

Additional Photos Below

Dechaine was always working, keeping busy, said Young.

"Dennis was the kind of guy that if it rained, he was out there picking up night crawlers to go fishing," said Young. "He represented to me what people say about the work ethic of people from northern Maine."

Dechaine had met a woman, Nancy Emmons, at Western Washington University. They graduated together in 1983, married that fall in Colorado and returned to Maine to work on a sheep farm in Bowdoinham.

The couple started their own business, with a vegetable stand, greenhouses and Christmas wreaths and gift baskets. They bought a house and called it Basswood Farm, where they raised sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits, geese and ducks.

Days before his arrest, Dechaine was in Madawaska for a family reunion. He visited with Young's parents, and with Young, who had a 3-week-old daughter. Dechaine wanted Young, an accomplished photographer, to take some product shots of the gift baskets he and his wife were selling.

"He was real happy," said Young.

A few days later, Young's sister called to tell him Dechaine had been arrested for murder. Young called the jail and spoke with Dechaine; his friend told him he didn't know what was going on.

"It was like a dream, but like a bad one, of course," said Young.

Nancy Dechaine and Dennis Dechaine divorced shortly after he was convicted in March 1989.

Tom Connolly, Dechaine's trial lawyer, said Nancy still supported Dennis but needed the divorce to protect her half of the marital property in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Dechaine by Cherry's family. The family later won its case.

Nancy moved out of Maine, remarried and had children. She eventually told Dechaine that she would not be in contact because she did not want to expose her new family to the case, Connolly said.

Reached last week by e-mail, Nancy Emmons declined to comment for this story.

Over the years, Young said, he would visit regularly with Dechaine in prison, bringing photos of his daughter. But Dechaine eventually asked him not to communicate so often.

"It'd bum him out -- he'd think about what it was, about what it could have been," said Young.

Young firmly believes his friend is innocent, and a guilty person is free.

And his close friends wonder how Dechaine's life -- and their own -- would be different if he hadn't been charged and convicted.

"Compared to Sarah Cherry's family, or to Dennis -- you can't compare. But all his close friends and relations have never been the same," said Young.

At the end of an interview, Jesse Waltman leaned forward, tapping his finger where his neck meets his head.

"The Dennis thing's always here, in the back of my head."

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell contributed to this report.

 

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

mwickenheiser@pressherald.com

 

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Additional Photos

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Dennis Dechaine,1976 senior class photo

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Steve Young, a good friend of Dechaine’s from Madawaska, said “he represented to me what people say about the work ethic of people from northern Maine.”

Matt Wickenheiser photo

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Retired Madawaska High School guidance counselor Roger Martin knew Dechaine as a student. "I've never been able to accept that Dennis could have done this," he said.

Matt Wickenheiser photo



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