AUGUSTA (AP) – DNA testing on fingernails and other items collected in the investigation of the 1988 murder of a 12-year-old babysitter from Bowdoin is to begin Tuesday at the earliest, a day later than originally scheduled.

Testing at the state crime lab in Augusta was supposed to begin Monday, but state police said the independent company involved in the process, Cellmark, encountered a delay.

Supporters of Dennis Dechaine, who’s serving a life sentence for the stabbing and strangulation of Sarah Cherry, said the Cellmark chemist involved in the review would be delayed a day or two because of a conflict with another court proceeding.

A group called Trial and Error from Madawaska, Dechaine’s hometown, is hoping that the tests will lead to a new trial. The group believes Dechaine is innocent and has lobbied for his release from prison. Tests will be conducted on a rope, scarf, bandanna, fingernails and other items found at the scene of the slaying.

If the samples are large enough, they will be split so separate tests can be conducted at the Maine crime lab and at Cellmark’s lab in Maryland, spokesman Stephen McCausland the of Maine Public Safety Department said Monday.

A 2-year-old state law allows people serving sentences of more than 20 years to use DNA evidence as the basis for requesting new trials.

Cellmark’s chemist will oversee testing of samples that are too small to be split at the Maine crime lab, the spokesman said.

Defense lawyer Michaela Murphy said Dechaine’s family and supporters are paying for the DNA tests.

Dechaine, who was living in Bowdoinham at the time of Sarah Cherry’s slaying, was convicted in 1989.

The Maine Attorney General’s office agreed to the DNA tests. But William Stokes, director of the attorney general’s criminal unit, has maintained that the outcome of the tests will not make the other evidence against Dechaine go away.

Cherry’s body was bound with a piece of rope from Dechaine’s truck, and the truck was spotted across the street from where her body was found. Papers bearing Dechaine’s name also were found outside the house where Cherry was last seen alive.

AP-ES-10-27-03 0947EST

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