Dennis Dechaine, right, convicted of the 1988 murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry, has requested a two-day hearing to present new evidence centered on DNA testing that wasn’t possible during his trial decades ago. Press Herald staff photo

There’s little dispute about whether a judge should consider new, state-of-the-art DNA testing in a decades-old murder case. But what is at stake for a man convicted of murder is whether the judge will allow his attorneys to present new witness statements that they say could explain why that evidence, had it been presented in 1989, would have resulted in a not-guilty verdict.

Sarah Cherry, 12

Dennis Dechaine, who has been incarcerated at Maine State Prison for more than 35 years for the kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry, has requested a two-day hearing to present new evidence. The hearing would center on the results of new DNA testing that wasn’t possible during Dechaine’s trial in the late ’80s. The findings exclude Dechaine from three of the six crime scene objects, casting doubt on the state’s case against him.

Cherry was babysitting at a house in Bowdoin when she disappeared. Her body was found two days later in the woods 3 miles away, close to where police found Dechaine’s truck.

Dechaine’s attorney, John Nale, said the new DNA results and the expert testimony he hopes to present would result in a different verdict – and that’s what Dechaine must prove in order to get a new trial.

Prosecutors don’t object to a hearing about the new DNA testing, nor are they opposed to hearing from the analysts who worked on it, but they are lobbying the judge not to allow several witnesses Nale hopes to call, including Dechaine’s attorney from the 1989 trial, Thomas Connolly, and a reconstruction of Cherry’s assault and killing.

Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber wrote in court filings last month that the witnesses and reconstruction are unnecessary and have nothing to do with the new DNA revelations. Connolly’s testimony about the potential impact of the DNA results would be “sheer speculation and not useful to the court,” Macomber wrote.


“It is the court’s job, not an unidentified attorney’s, to determine whether the 2022 DNA test results would make it more probable that a different verdict would result upon a new trial,” Macomber said.

The Maine Office of the Attorney General has also argued the DNA results Nale presented are misleading.

Nale said prosecutors are taking an “excessively narrow” view of a state law about new DNA evidence in criminal cases by seeking to bar him from presenting evidence and witnesses who aren’t directly tied to DNA testing.

“The State fails to recognize that ‘old’ trial evidence can be reinterpreted and reimagined in light of the DNA test results without becoming new evidence,” Nale wrote. “The new DNA test results shed new light on the old evidence and are crucial in demonstrating how they would have resulted in a different verdict.”

There’s no timeline for when a hearing will be held or when the judge will decide what evidence can be heard.



Partial male DNA profiles were found on at least four of the six objects tested, according to the DNA results shared last year. Dechaine was definitively excluded from DNA found on three objects: the bra worn by Cherry, one of the sticks used to assault her and the bandana used to gag her.

Attempts to match DNA profiles on three more objects – the scarf used to strangle her, her blood-stained T-shirt and a second stick used in the sexual assault – were inconclusive because there was not enough data to either exclude or include Dechaine as the source of the DNA.

On two of the items, Macomber said Dechaine was still a potential match. Nale said Dechaine is one of thousands of potential sources. 

Dechaine was first interviewed by police on July 6, 1988, when police were still looking for Cherry. Officers wanted to talk to him after finding a notebook and a car service receipt from Dechaine’s truck in the driveway of the Bowdoin house where she was last seen.

When asked about the items, Dechaine said they were likely planted by the real killer while he was in the woods doing drugs. Nale wrote in his latest court filings that he believes the defense could prove to a new jury that Dechaine’s truck was rifled through.

Macomber, however, said Dechaine’s truck was locked when police found it early in the morning on July 7, “very near the area where Sarah Cherry’s body would later be discovered.”


Macomber also wrote that Nale’s filings “downplay” confessions he said Dechaine made before his trial. Dechaine told a detective he had killed Cherry: “I didn’t think it actually happened until I saw her face on the news; then it all came back to me,” court documents read. “I remembered it … why did I kill her? … What punishment could they ever give me that would equal what I’ve done.”

Macomber also said Dechaine confessed to corrections officers after his arrest: “You people need to know that I am the one who murdered that girl, and you may want to put me in isolation.”

But none of these alleged confessions were put in writing, Nale has argued, and they’ve been discounted by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that they were “purported confessions that contained no details of the crime.”

“If there truly were multiple instances in which Dechaine confessed, as claimed by various deputies and jail guards, one would expect that these law enforcement personnel could have elicited a signed written confession from him at least once,” Nale wrote.

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