PORTLAND — A Lewiston lawyer who worked with a defense team that on Wednesday secured the freedom of Anthony Sanborn Jr., who had been convicted in the murder of a 16-year-old girl, said the volume of evidence not shared with Sanborn’s trial lawyers was “monumental.”
A judge re-sentenced Sanborn on Wednesday to time served, 27 years after he was originally sentenced to 70 years in prison for the 1989 murder of Jessica Briggs. Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler found that the constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment had been violated; he had been 16 at the time.
Briggs had been fatally stabbed, her body recovered in Portland Harbor.
Attorney Verne Paradie Jr. said he got a call from defense attorney Amy Fairfield last winter. She said she could use his help with a case that pointed to a wrongful murder conviction.
She knew he had experience with post-conviction reviews in which a criminal defendant has exhausted direct appeals of conviction and sentence, and seeks a hearing claiming constitutional protections were breached.
Paradie had represented a defendant last year in a proceeding similar to the Sanborn case. That defendant, Frank Fournier, was released after serving 28 years of a 50-year prison sentence.
Paradie had successfully argued that FBI analysis of physical evidence at trial had been potentially flawed and had been improperly considered by the judge in arriving at Fournier’s sentence. A judge freed Fournier after concluding that his sentence may have been mistakenly enhanced by the trial judge in his 1988 sentencing.
“That was pretty big news for a while,” Paradie said of the case.
Fairfield hired Paradie as an expert in the discovery process and exculpatory evidence that would be favorable to the defense.
Paradie said she told him to provide his opinion and advice on the obligations and actions of defense counsel at Sanborn’s trial and how useful certain evidence would have been had prosecutors turned over all exculpatory evidence to the defense. He had been scheduled to testify at the hearing Wednesday, which was cut short by the re-sentencing agreement.
Paradie sat through at least two weeks of the 21-day hearing.
Fairfield had told Paradie when she brought him onto the team that she had found records that were problematic with the state’s case, so she had kept digging, finding more and more.
“I gotta give Amy kudos,” Paradie said. “She lived this case for eight months or longer.”
Fairfield found a treasure trove in boxes of information that a detective in Sanborn’s case had stored in a room at his house.
Many of those records, had they been shared with the defense, would have helped Sanborn’s case at trial, Paradie said, especially handwritten notes pointing to “very legitimate” alternative suspects and witnesses from Bath Iron Works who had described a man who had been with Briggs shortly before her murder.
Composite sketches showed a man with a beard who looked nothing like Sanborn, who had been a “kid” at the time, Paradie said.
A 13-year-old girl who had been presented as an eyewitness turned out to be legally blind, a fact the defense team discovered after subpoenaing records from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Paradie said.
The police detective’s handwritten notes showed the girl couldn’t have witnessed the murder because she had told him in an interview that she reached her home that night hours before the murder was determined to have occurred.
“She couldn’t even have witnessed the murder,” Paradie said of the conflicting timeline. “But those handwritten notes were never turned over to the defense,” a violation of rules of criminal procedure.
Some of the detective’s handwritten notes about alternative suspects included “credible information that other people had wanted to harm this girl,” Paradie said.
“The stuff in these boxes … is monumental,” he said.
Moreover, sticky notes found attached to handwritten witness statements in the case read: “Do not turn over to the defense,” again, a violation of court rules, he said.
Those witness statements had contradicted what police officers had typewritten in their official reports, Paradie said.
“This case really exemplifies why police officers should be required to maintain their (handwritten) notes — and provide them to defense counsel — because it shows there’s so much in these notes defense lawyers could have used to pursue a better result for Mr. Sanborn,” Paradie said.
Despite his trial defense attorneys’ best efforts, Sanborn did not receive a fair trial, Paradie said.
“There was direct evidence that a prosecutor had intentionally withheld evidence,” he said. “Mr. Sanborn just did not receive a fair shake.”
Anthony Sanborn with his attorney, Amy Fairfield (Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald)