July 11, 2010

The Alternate Suspect: Is former Mainer linked, or 'nothing but speculation'?

By Trevor Maxwell tmaxwell@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Connolly focused on Senecal again in 1992 in a motion for a new trial for Dechaine. At the hearing, five witnesses provided information implicating Senecal in the murder. One man claimed to have heard Senecal's voice and the voice of a little girl on a road near the spot where Sarah's body was found.

Justice Bradford found the testimony was either not credible, hearsay or otherwise inadmissible. The judge ruled that the new evidence "still lacked the substantial link between Douglas Senecal and the alternative perpetrator theory of defense."

Then in 1994, laboratory testing done by Dechaine's legal team discovered a partial DNA profile from an unidentified male on Sarah Cherry's clipped thumbnail. The profile is sufficient to rule out some people, including Dechaine, but there is not enough genetic material to conclusively match the profile to any other individual. There are potentially thousands of people worldwide whose DNA would match the partial profile.

Undeterred by the odds, Dechaine's defense team has tried to identify the man whose DNA was left on or under Sarah's thumbnail.

In 1996 and in 1998, Dechaine asked the Superior Court to order Senecal to provide a sample of his saliva for the purposes of a comparison. Dechaine made the same request to a federal judge in 2000. The requests were denied.

In a 2004 interview with Bill Nemitz, columnist for The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Senecal said he would not provide a DNA sample to Dechaine's defense team because he did not trust them. Senecal believed lawyer Connolly might have already secretly obtained his DNA -- perhaps by taking one of his hairbrushes or a dropped cigarette butt -- and transferred it onto Sarah Cherry's thumbnail.

Senecal reiterated that deep sense of suspicion in last week's telephone interview.

"There is not a soul on this earth that I trust, except my wife and son," he said, while noting that his wife died three years ago.

Senecal is aware that his name could come up once again in Dechaine's pending bid for a new trial. Dechaine's current attorney, Steve Peterson of Rockport, has said he will try to introduce evidence to support his theory that another man killed Sarah Cherry. But Peterson said a court order prohibits him from talking about that aspect of the appeal.

"When is it going to be done? I've been waiting 25 years," Senecal said. "I don't need an attorney, I have done nothing wrong except be born."

His son, 29-year-old Isaac Senecal, said anyone who truly knows his father knows that Doug Senecal had nothing to do with Sarah Cherry's death.

"Having seen what my dad and the rest of my family has had to go through, it is disheartening," Isaac Senecal said of the constant intrusions by reporters and private investigators.

Isaac Senecal lives in North Carolina and serves in the Air Force Reserves. He went on reserve status three years ago after seven years of active duty that included three years in the Iraq war. Isaac was 7 years old when his father's name was first connected with the Dechaine case.

"He is my best friend in the world," Isaac Senecal said of his father. "He is an awesome person, and I have a very close circle of friends that would say the same thing.

"You can go to anybody in prison and they have an army of people behind them who say they didn't do it. What bothers me is they have no facts," he said. "A name came up on the radar, it was my dad's, and he has had to live with that."


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