ROCKLAND — Well-known prisoner Dennis Dechaine pleaded not guilty this morning to a felony charge of trafficking in contraband at the Maine State Prison in Warren.
Dechaine, 52, appeared briefly at Knox County Superior Court, via closed-circuit television from the nearby prison. He did not speak during the hearing except to tell the judge that he understood the charge and that he wished to enter a not guilty plea.
Prosecutors say Dechaine illegally possessed morphine and the prescription anti-anxiety medication Klonopin.
Dechaine is serving a life sentence for the 1988 kidnapping, torture and murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry in the small town of Bowdoin in Sagadahoc County. He claims to be innocent and his latest motion for a new trial is pending, with a hearing expected sometime this fall.
In prior interviews and in a letter sent to the Portland Press Herald last month, Dechaine said he used the morphine and Klonopin in a suicide attempt on April 4. He would not disclose how he obtained the drugs, and he said he has not cooperated with prison investigators or the District Attorney’s Office. Corrections officers found Dechaine near death inside his cell, and he was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he spent two weeks recovering. Since his return to prison Dechaine has been housed in the facility’s specialized mental health unit.
Dechaine’s lawyer for the pending appeal, Steve Peterson of Rockport, has said the trafficking charge should not have any impact on the pending bid for a new trial.
The trafficking charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. If Dechaine is convicted, he would serve his sentence immediately and then his life term would resume. There would be no cumulative impact on Dechaine’s time in prison because a life sentence in Maine means the inmate serves until his death, with no possibility of early release.
Knox County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said that although a conviction would not change Dechaine’s overall sentence, criminal charges need to be brought against inmates who break the law.
Rushlau said he has previously prosecuted two other inmates who were serving life sentences. Both of those men were convicted of assaults within the prison.
“We do hope it sends some type of message that they are not immune to the consequences of criminal activity,” Rushlau said after today’s hearing.
Peterson, Dechaine’s lawyer on the murder case, is expected to be appointed to represent him on the trafficking charge. He and Rushlau will have 30 days to submit any motions on the case.