FARMINGTON — The state’s high court Thursday upheld a lower court’s decision to vacate a 2014 conviction of a Madrid Township man on a felony charge of sexual abuse of a minor.

John Fahnley, 63, was found guilty by a Franklin County jury in 2014. The jury acquitted him of felony gross sexual assault and a second charge of sexual abuse of a minor.

Fahnley served three years of a five-year prison sentence.

Fahnley petitioned the Franklin County Superior Court to review his conviction, citing ineffective assistance of counsel.

Justice Nancy Mills, who presided over the trial in Farmington, granted the petition Oct. 31, 2017.

Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision Thursday “because we conclude that the court’s factual findings are supported by competent record evidence,” according to the decision.

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Among the lower court’s findings was that potentially favorable evidence to the defendant was provided to defense counsel by Fahnley but was not used even though counsel told Fahnley it would be, according to the decision. 

That evidence included credit card billing records that, along with the dates of Fahnley’s frequent medical appointments, would have accounted for Fahnley’s whereabouts on many of the days in August 2008 when the allegations of sexual abuse of a minor took place, according to court records.

The state appealed the decision to the Supreme Court arguing that the post-conviction court erred in its determination of facts because it did not adequately consider evidence of counsel’s trial strategy and reasonable decisions about presenting the evidence.  

The high court heard the appeal June 12 in Augusta.

“Although the state’s argument — that there is evidence in the record to support some of the tactical decisions made by defense counsel — may have some merit, that is not the standard that guides our analysis,” Justice Joseph Jabar wrote in the Supreme Court’s decision. “Because the court’s findings regarding ineffective assistance are supported by competent record evidence, including ample support for its findings regarding trial counsel’s failure to interview witnesses, failure to present exculpatory evidence, and failure to communicate with his client regarding overarching defense strategy — we affirm the judgment.”

The  state will have the option to retry the case.

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