ROCKLAND — A judge has granted a request by the man convicted in the 1989 murder of a 12-year-old girl to conduct additional DNA testing using technology that wasn’t available when the case first went to trial.

Dennis Dechaine, shown in court in 2013, was convicted of murdering Sarah Cherry in 1988. Press Herald staff photo

Knox County Superior Court Justice Bruce Mallonee granted the motion Friday. Attorneys for Dennis Dechaine, who has served 33 years in prison for the murder of Sarah Cherry in Bowdoin, had argued for the additional testing at a hearing last December, one of numerous motions filed by defense lawyers who hope additional DNA evidence might free their client.

Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber argued against the motion at the December hearing, and Mallonee cautioned Friday that allowing the additional testing in no way implies that it is likely to exonerate Dechaine.

Macomber said Friday, however, that his office would not appeal Mallonee’s ruling.

Dechaine has maintained during and since his trial that he did not kill Cherry. The case was moved to Knox County at the time of the trial because of the extensive pre-trial publicity in Sagadahoc County.

Sarah Cherry was 12 years old when she embarked on her first babysitting job on July 6, 1988, at the Bowdoin home of Jennifer Henkel. Neighbors reported hearing someone pull into Henkel’s driveway that afternoon, and hearing the family’s dogs barking.


When Henkel returned home later, Cherry was gone. In her driveway, Henkel 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 30-year-old Dechaine, who lived in Bowdoinham, around 4 p.m.

Around 8:45 p.m., Dechaine walked out of the woods on Dead River Road in Bowdoin, three miles from the Henkel home, where 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 in the crime. Police later said that 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 disappeared. His supporters, meanwhile, have maintained that forensic evidence that was either downplayed or not fully explored at trial shows Dechaine could not possibly have committed the crime.

Dechaine’s attorneys in December, John Nale and Stuart Tisdale, argued that the court should allow additional DNA testing, saying that the new technology could possibly turn up DNA evidence that was not recoverable in the past.

Nale specifically mentioned the M-Vac system, which uses a wet vacuum process to collect previously uncollectible DNA, and genome typing as potential technologies that might turn up DNA on Cherry’s clothing that belongs to someone other than Cherry or Dechaine, indicating that someone else could have killed her.

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, Nale 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 results of such DNA tests could be available in days.

Macomber argued at the December hearing that such DNA technology had 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 being available it would be Dechaine, who has for decades focused on that as a potential defense.

Macomber also told Mallonee in December that the original evidence had been contaminated, and that what the defense was requesting 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 in December.

Mallonee ruled that the motion for the additional advanced DNA testing was made within two years of the updated technology being known and available. Macomber said Monday that the state would not comment because the case remains in litigation.

A telephone message left Monday with Nale was not returned.

In Friday’s ruling, Mallonee cautioned cautioned: “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.”

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