A man who has served 32 years in prison since being convicted of the brutal murder of a 12-year-old girl is asking a court to allow evidence to be tested by newer technology to determine if there is DNA material that could set him free.

Dennis Dechaine, shown in court in 2013, is seeking permission to have evidence tested using an advanced DNA method. he was convicted of the 1988 murder of Sarah Cherry. Press Herald staff photo

Dennis Dechaine attended the Superior Court hearing at the Knox County Courthouse in Rockland via Zoom on Friday. It is the same courthouse where a jury convicted him in 1989 of the murder of Sarah Cherry in Bowdoin. The trial was moved to Knox County in 1989 because of the extensive pre-trial publicity in Sagadahoc County.

Cherry was 12 and at her first babysitting job on July 6, 1988, at a home in Bowdoin. Neighbors reported hearing someone pull into that driveway that afternoon, and heard the family’s dogs barking.

Cherry was gone when the baby’s mother returned home. In the driveway, she found a receipt and a notebook with the name Dennis Dechaine on them. The mother called police, and they began to search for both Cherry and the then 30-year-old Dechaine, who lived in the adjacent town of Bowdoinham.

Around 8:45 p.m. that day, Dechaine walked out of the woods on Dead River Road in Bowdoin, 3 miles from the home where Cherry disappeared. He was picked up by police and questioned.

While he was in custody that night, police found Dechaine’s truck at the end of a logging road. Two days later, Cherry’s body was found less than 500 feet from where the truck was parked. She had been sexually assaulted, stabbed 13 times, slashed with a knife and choked to death. A rope and a scarf from Dechaine’s truck were used to commit the crime, prosecutors said. Police later said that Dechaine made incriminating statements while he was in custody.

At trial, Dechaine testified in his own defense. He said he went into the woods that day to inject drugs, and had trouble recalling parts of the day. He has maintained his innocence and has waged numerous efforts over the past 32 years to get DNA testing of Cherry’s clothes that his various attorneys have argued would show DNA belonging to someone other than Cherry or Dechaine, indicating that someone else could have committed the murder.

At the hearing on Friday, attorney John Nale of Waterville asked Justice Bruce Mallonee to allow a new testing technology to be used on Cherry’s garments found at the murder scene. Nale said the newer technology – called the M-Vac system – uses a wet vacuum process to collect previously uncollectible DNA. He also said genome typing is another new technology that can be used.

Sarah Cherry of Bowdoin was 12 when she went missing from a babysitting job in 1988.

These technologies were not available during the 1989 trial, he said. He said said it was not until very recently that the technology was “commonly known and available,” a standard needed for a court to order additional testing.

Nale said items such as a T-shirt, scarf, handkerchief and bra could be tested. If the material was sent for testing, results could be available in days, he said.

Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber argued against the defense motion. He said the technology has been known and was available prior to September 2019. That time is key because the defense filed its motion in September 2021 and a request for additional testing must be done within two years of when the technology is commonly known and available. The prosecutor said that Dechaine would have known about newer DNA testing technology because he has focused on it for decades.

Macomber also told Mallonee that the evidence had been contaminated and that the effort sought by the defense would be like “searching for a needle in a haystack, a contaminated needle.”

The time has come to let Cherry’s family rest after all these years, he said.

Mallonee said he would take the request under consideration. No timetable for a ruling was given.

Dechaine also is being represented on this motion by attorney Stuart Tisdale.

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