The tests will be performed at the Maine State Police crime lab.

AUGUSTA (AP) – DNA tests could begin as soon as next month on items collected in the investigation of the 1988 murder of Sarah Cherry.

The tests are part of an effort by supporters of Dennis Dechaine to have the case reopened. Dechaine, a Bowdoinham farmer, was convicted of Cherry’s murder and is serving a life sentence at the Maine State Prison.

William Stokes, director of the criminal unit in the attorney general’s office, said Tuesday that he and Dechaine’s attorney, Michaela Murphy, have agreed to have about 17 items tested, including a rope, a scarf, a bandanna, fingernails and sticks. Stokes said the DNA tests will be performed at the Maine State Police crime lab, probably in September, and will take one to two weeks.

Justice Carl Bradford, who presided over Dechaine’s trial in 1989, must sign an order authorizing the tests before they can begin.

Murphy said that CellMark, a DNA testing firm in Maryland, may also be allowed to test samples independently from the state on Dechaine’s behalf.

That would involve splitting evidence when possible. For instance, if the rope is long enough, the state and CellMark would each test a portion. But if a piece of cloth is too small for separate testing, then the CellMark chemists will be able to observe the state testing.

“What we’re pleased about is that they’ll let our people in on the process,” Murphy said.

Sarah Cherry, a 12-year-old from Bowdoin, was found strangled, stabbed and raped with sticks in some woods in July 1988. Dechaine was convicted the following year.

A group from Madawaska called Trial and Error believes that Dechaine, 45, is innocent of the murder and has lobbied for his release from prison. Murphy said those members and Dechaine’s family are paying her legal fees and CellMark’s expenses.

Murphy has also asked the Attorney General’s Office for a new trial. Stokes said that request is premature until the results of the DNA testing are known.

Although Stokes has agreed to the DNA tests, he has also said the tests don’t make the other evidence go away.

During the initial investigation, police found papers bearing Dechaine’s name outside the house where Cherry was last seen alive. Her body was bound with rope cut from a piece of rope in his truck, which had been spotted parked across the street from where her body was found.

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