Dennis Dechaine, convicted of the 1988 murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry, makes a bid for a new trial in 2012. Defense attorney Steven Peterson, left, is seated with Dechaine. Press Herald staff photo

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said Monday that new DNA testing that failed to tie Dennis Dechaine to items used in the 1988 kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old babysitter Sarah Cherry does not override other evidence supporting Dechaine’s conviction.

Frey’s office had argued against testing the items using new, more sensitive technology that can identify traces of DNA. But on Monday said in a written statement the new DNA test results does not shake his confidence in the state’s conviction of Dechaine.

Frey’s remarks make it clear the state will argue against a new trial based on the evidence, something Dechaine’s attorney says he is preparing to file within a few weeks.

Sarah Cherry, 12

“The Attorney General’s Office has faith in the system that has provided Mr. Dechaine numerous opportunities to challenge his conviction and remains confident in the jury’s verdict,” Frey said in a statement issued to the Portland Press Herald.

“As prior courts have ruled, the DNA evidence in this case is only a small part of the substantial evidence against Mr. Dechaine and needs to be viewed in that context, Frey continued.

“That said, the results of the new DNA testing recently ordered by the court show that Mr. Dechaine cannot be excluded from 3 out of the 6 items tested.  This result does not conflict with our prior accounts or negate the significant other evidence against Mr. Dechaine. ”


Frey also said that Dechaine has had multiple opportunities to challenge his conviction before state and federal courts.  The courts have repeatedly denied those challenges while highlighting the overwhelming evidence against him, Frey said.

When the Portland Press Herald asked about the new evidence earlier this month, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said the office was reviewing the results but does not comment on pending litigation.

Frey’s remarks Monday about the DNA test results came one day after outgoing state representative Jeffrey Evangelos wrote a Maine Sunday Telegram commentary calling for the state to release Dechaine from prison based on the new DNA results.

Evangelos, who did not seek reelection to the Maine House of Representatives, wrote in his commentary, “With the state’s case now resembling Swiss cheese, it should act quickly to terminate this tragic saga. There is no justice for a victim’s family when we have the wrong person in prison.”

Frey, through a spokesperson, declined to comment further Monday night.

“The AG will not be able to give an interview on this,” his office said in an email.


The Maine Supreme Judicial Court denied Dechaine’s three previous requests for a new trial. In the latest ruling, the court concluded that new DNA evidence wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the original trial.


Dechaine is represented by attorney John Nale of Waterville, who is preparing to file a motion for a new trial. It remains unclear when that motion might be filed. Attempts to reach Nale on Monday night were unsuccessful.

In September 2021, Dechaine’s lawyers filed a motion for additional DNA testing on the grounds that new, more-sensitive collection technology had become available, and Knox County Superior Court Justice Bruce Mallonee approved the motion in July despite the state’s objections.

The tests, which were conducted at a lab chosen by the state, found partial male DNA profiles on several of the items from the crime scene. But Dechaine was definitively excluded from being the source of DNA found on three objects: the bra worn by Cherry, one of the sticks used to violate her and the bandana used to gag her.

DNA results from Cherry’s blood-stained T-shirt, a scarf used to strangle her and another stick were inconclusive, meaning that Dechaine’s DNA could not be excluded or matched to those items.


“If this man did what they’re saying he did, his DNA should be all over all of the evidence used in the commission of the crime,” Nale told the Press Herald this month.

Nale said the legal team representing Dechaine was preparing a formal motion for a new trial based on the test results. Under Maine’s DNA law, when a person convicted of a crime is excluded as the source of DNA on crime scene evidence, a new trial may be granted if certain thresholds are met. Nale told the Sunday Telegram that the motion would be filed in six to eight weeks.

Attempts to contact Cherry’s family this month were not successful. Cherry lived in Bowdoin at the time of her death.

Dechaine has spent 34 years in prison since his conviction in the murder. The Bowdoinham farmer with no criminal record became the sole suspect in Cherry’s kidnapping on the afternoon of July 6, 1988, when a receipt and notebook with his name on them were found at the Bowdoin home where the girl was babysitting.

Cherry’s body was found two days later in the woods three miles away, close to where his truck had been parked when he was picked up by police the night of the abduction. She had been sexually tortured and strangled, her hands bound in yellow rope similar to rope found in Dechaine’s truck.

Dechaine has always maintained his innocence, saying he was framed by the real perpetrator, who planted items from Dechaine’s truck at the crime scenes while he was in the woods doing drugs.



The latest test results have not been matched to any other individuals, although Nale said Dechaine’s legal team is working to compare the DNA profiles to at least one other potential suspect.

Daniel Medwed, a professor of law and criminal justice at Northeastern University and a founding member of the New England Innocence Project, which works to correct and prevent wrongful convictions, told the Press Herald that finding evidence of another suspect is the ‘holy grail’ in such cases, but not necessary to win a new trial.

“The key is whether or not the evidence now is so much weaker against Dennis Dechaine that he deserves a new trial, or this new finding about the biological evidence casts such doubt on it that justice would require an airing in court,” he said.

Several other suspects have emerged in the Cherry case over the years, including child sex offenders who were living within a mile or two of the abduction site at the time. In addition, The Press Herald recently revealed that a serial killer, the late Richard Evonitz, known to kidnap young girls from their yards in broad daylight, was living in Portland that summer, a short drive from Bowdoin. The founder of the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia Law School, Deirdre Enright, sent Evonitz’s DNA profile to Nale for comparison, after seeing the similarities between his crimes and the killing of Cherry.

Staff Writer Emily Allen contributed to this story.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: