ROCKLAND — A state judge has ruled that additional DNA testing may be conducted on evidence connected to the 1988 murder of a 12-year-old babysitter.

Justice Bruce Mallonee granted  a motion for further DNA testing requested by attorneys for Dennis Dechaine who has served 33 years in prison for the brutal murder in the town of Bowdoin. The case was moved to Knox County back at the time of the trial because of the extensive pre-trial publicity in Sagadahoc County. A Knox County jury convicted Dechaine of the murder of Sarah Cherry.

Define attorneys over the past 33 years have filed appeals and requests for additional DNA testing. Dechaine has maintained his innocence.

In December 2021, a hearing was held before Justice Mallonee in the same Knox County courtroom that Dechaine was convicted. This time, attorneys John Nale and Stuart Tisdale, argued that the court should allow additional DNA testing because of new technology.

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.

These technologies were not available during the 1989 trial, he said. He said it was not until very recently 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, hankerchief, and bra could be tested.

The defense attorney said if the material was sent for testing, results could be available in days.

Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber argued at the December hearing against the defense motion. He said the technology has been known and 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 if anyone knew about newer DNA testing technology available it would be Dechaine, who has focused on that for decades.

Macomber also told Justice Mallonee the evidence had been contaminated, and 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 at the December 2021 hearing.

Justice Mallonee ruled that the motion for the additional advanced DNA testing was made within two years of the updated technology being known.


Macomber said Monday, July 25 that the state had no comment since the case remains in litigation. The Assistant Attorney General said, however, the office would not appeal the ruling.

A telephone message was left Monday with Nale.

Justice Mallonee cautioned in his ruling that “In issuing this order, the court must emphasize its limited scope. By granting the immediate motion the court offers no opinion about the many other issues implicated by the facts, including whether the items to be examined have been so contaminated that they cannot yield useful samples; whether they have been physically degraded to the point they are unusable; or whether any result of further testing will legitimately generate a further motion in this case. The court’s ruling today specifically does not endorse Defendant’s bold assertion that examination of the items by enhanced technology will identify a perpetrator other than himself.”

Cherry was 12 years old 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.

When the baby’s mother returned home, Cherry was gone. In the driveway, the mother found a receipt and a notebook with the name Dennis Dechaine on them. She 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 with sticks, stabbed 13 times and slashed with a knife, and choked to death. A rope and a scarf from Dechaine’s truck were used to commit the crime. Police later said Dechaine made incriminating statements during his time 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 when Cherry went missing.

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