ROCKLAND — Dennis Dechaine, who is serving a life sentence for murder, was sentenced Tuesday to an additional three months for drug possession in connection with his overdose in 2010 at the Maine State Prison.

Dechaine was scheduled to go on trial in Knox County Superior Court for the felony offense of trafficking in prison contraband. His lawyer said he raised the possibility of a plea agreement Tuesday morning.

The sentence imposed by Justice William Broderick was less than the prosecutor sought, but it wasn’t the suspended sentence requested by the defense.

The difference may be academic because Dechaine is serving a life sentence for kidnapping and murdering 12-year-old Sarah Cherry of Bowdoin in 1988.

Dechaine, 54, is seeking a new trial in that case based on DNA evidence from a portion of a thumbnail that was clipped from the girl during her autopsy. A judge heard his appeal in Portland last week and will issue a ruling. Dechaine’s four previous appeals have failed.

The three-month sentence for misdemeanor drug possession interrupts Dechaine’s life sentence. He was also fined $400.

The drug charge stems from an incident on April 5, 2010, in which Dechaine was found unconscious, with a very low pulse rate and blood pressure, in his cell at the state prison in Warren. He was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Portland and returned to the prison two weeks later.

Dechaine told a reporter that summer that he had used morphine and Klonopin, a drug used to treat seizures and panic disorders, in a suicide attempt.

Under Tuesday’s plea agreement, the felony charge was dismissed and Dechaine pleaded no contest to unlawful possession of morphine. The plea was open, so Broderick could impose any allowable sentence for the offense. The maximum penalty was one year.

District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau asked for a sentence of six months and noted that prisoners are prohibited from possessing drugs, which in addition to being dangerous can serve as a currency among inmates.

Defense attorney Steve Peterson asked for a suspended sentence, saying it would be absurd to add jail time to a life sentence for a suicide attempt.

Rushlau characterized the incident as recreational drug use gone wrong and said no suicide note was found in the cell.

The prosecutor noted that Dechaine said at the time that the overdose was an accident but later told people he tried to kill himself.

“What we’re trying to do is treat him essentially the same as we would anybody else in a similar situation. And I think this is accomplishing that,” Rushlau said after Tuesday’s proceeding.

Dechaine overdosed in a separate incident seven years ago, Rushlau said, and insisted it was an accident.

That matter was not investigated criminally, but after the overdose in 2010, blood and urine drawn as part of Dechaine’s treatment indicated the presence of morphine, Rushlau said.

Peterson said in court that if the case had gone to trial, the medical records would have been replete with evidence that Dechaine had tried to kill himself. Peterson noted that Dechaine was on suicide watch when he returned to the prison.

Peterson later said the jury would have had to struggle with the evidence about drug use and the context in which it occurred.

“The fact that he’s in jail for life for something he professes he didn’t do – you can also understand why someone would want to kill himself,” he said.

In a letter to a reporter for The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram dated July 10, 2010, Dechaine said he took a combination of prescription drugs in a suicide attempt.

“I have been imprisoned 22 years and the soul-crushing monotony, boredom, institutional food, pervasive violence, 24-hour lights, near-constant noise, harsh treatment, myriad petty rules, lack of resources, loss of potential, separation from my family and friends, along with a raft of other negativity, simple conspired to erode my will to live,” Dechaine wrote to reporter Trevor Maxwell.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be reached at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: AnnKimPPH