Man convicted of murder of 12-year-old girl fights for new trial after three decades

Dennis Dechaine is hoping new DNA testing will show his innocence in the 1988 case

Dan Gooding
Thursday 18 April 2024 21:54 BST
Dennis Dechaine appears for hearing that could lead to retrial of 1980s murder case

A man serving a life sentence for the murder of a 12-year-old girl in Maine more than three decades ago is hoping a judge will allow him a re-trial using DNA results released over 30 years later.

Dennis Dechaine, 66, is appearing for a two-day hearing at the Knox County Superior Court, where the judge will decide if the results merit a new trial.

Sarah Cherry was babysitting at a house in Bowdoin, Maine, when she disappeared in July 1988.

She was tortured, sexually assaulted and strangled in a wooded area in the town, with her body found a few days later.

Items belonging to Dechaine were found outside the home Cherry disappeared from, including a receipt for auto repair work and his notebook, with these presented by the Maine District Attorney during his original trial.

Police came across him whilst looking for Cherry and denied any involvement, claiming he had been in the woods alone doing drugs.

Dennis Dechaine convicted of torturing, sexually assaulting and strangling Sarah Cherry in a wooded area in Maine (WABI)

His attorneys argued that the items officers found had been planted by someone else, to frame him and that other potential suspects went ignored.

The Portland Press Herald also points to forensic reports which suggested Cherry was still alive at least six hours after officers arrested Mr Dechaine.

He has attempted three times over the years to have his case heard again, but all attempts have been denied.

Then in 2022, new DNA testing failed to tie the items used in the 1989 conviction to the 12-year-old’s murder.

During that trial, the judge said that testing would need to be carried out in California and would take too long, so the issue was left out.

Thirty years later, testing methods have advanced and Mr Dechaine’s attorneys enlisted a company, in California, which uses M-Vac technology. The method is capable of collecting 66 times more DNA material than previous ones.

Dennis Dechaine appears at Knox County Superior Court in Maine on 18 April 2024 (WMTW)

It was reported in 2022 that partial male DNA profiles were found on four out of six objects tied to the case.

There were no matches for Mr Dechaine’s DNA on three of those - the bra worn by Cherry, a stick used to violate her and the bandana used to gag her.

Results on the scarf used to strangle her, a blood-stained t-shirt and a second stick were all inconclusive.

“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,” John Nale, one of Mr Dechaine’s attorneys, told The Portland Press Herald at the time.

On Thursday, Mr Dechaine appeared in court in handcuffs, with the first witness called by his defence.

The DNA expert was cross-examined, with a second witness expected to be questioned on Friday.

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