Dennis Dechaine, appearing in court in 2012 with Steven Peterson, his defense attorney at the time, was convicted of the 1988 murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry. Press Herald staff photo

Dennis Dechaine, who has been locked up for more than 30 years for the murder of a 12-year-old girl, is asking the court to consider granting him an evidentiary hearing for a new trial after DNA testing last fall cast doubt on the state’s allegations against him.

Dechaine was convicted of the 1988 kidnapping and murder of Sarah Cherry, who was babysitting at a house in Bowdoin when she disappeared. Her body was found two days later in the woods three miles away, close to where Dechaine’s truck had been parked when he was picked up by police the night of the abduction.

Maine prosecutors have argued that personal items from Dechaine’s truck that were found at the house where Cherry was last seen – a notebook and a receipt with Dechaine’s name on it – link him to the crime.

However, new advanced DNA testing released in November did not find any conclusive links between Dechaine and several key DNA samples in the case.

His attorney, John Nale, is hoping that new evidence will compel a judge to order a hearing where he can argue it merits a new trial. Nale filed a memo in Knox County Superior Court Wednesday asking the judge to schedule an evidentiary hearing to consider the new testing.

“It is the lack of DNA evidence, together with the lack of all other physical trace evidence, that Mr. Dechaine maintains his innocence and believes a Maine jury would render a different verdict after hearing the evidence being presented herein,” Nale wrote.


Nale said he plans to call on a witness to present a detailed crime scene reconstruction and provide evidence that the blood found under Cherry’s thumbnail likely came from her killer – contradicting the state’s theory in 1989 that the blood was Cherry’s, caused by her struggling with the scarf around her neck.

Based on the new DNA testing, Nale said it’s more likely the blood got there because Cherry was struggling with the assailant, “digging his face, arms, hands or neck.”

A Maine judge agreed to allow for new DNA testing in July 2022, nearly a year after Nale’s request in 2021. A lab in California used technology capable of collecting 66 times more DNA than previous methods, according to the FBI.

Partial male DNA profiles were found on at least four of the six objects tested. Dechaine was definitively excluded from DNA found on three objects: the bra worn by Cherry, one of the sticks used to violate her and the bandana used to gag her.

He was included as a potential source of DNA on two items, but “so are tens of thousands of other males,” Nale wrote in the latest court filing, which “shows that he is not the source of the evidence.”



Attempts to match DNA profiles on three more objects – the scarf used to strangle her, her blood-stained T-shirt and a second stick used in the sexual assault – were inconclusive. There was not enough data to either exclude or match Dechaine as the source of the DNA.

The memo also referenced other inconsistencies in Dechaine’s case, including that he was arrested with no scrapes on his body despite testimony that the only way Cherry’s killer could’ve left the scene of her murder was to run through a heavily wooded area.

Should a judge agree to hold a hearing to consider the new evidence, the court would hear from several experts who believe the results exonerate Dechaine, Nale said, and that had the more advanced DNA testing been presented at the time, the 1989 jury would have reached a different conclusion.

The Office of the Maine Attorney General has 30 days to respond to Nale’s motion. A spokesperson for the office did not respond to messages Wednesday asking if the attorney general plans to challenge the hearing.

Attorney General Aaron Frey said in November that he doesn’t believe the results were specific enough to merit a new trial.

“As prior courts have ruled, the DNA evidence in this case is only a small part of the substantial evidence against Mr. Dechaine and needs to be viewed in that context,” Frey said in a written statement. “That said, the results of the new DNA testing recently ordered by the court show that Mr. Dechaine cannot be excluded from three out of the six items tested. This result does not conflict with our prior accounts or negate the significant other evidence against Mr. Dechaine. ”

Dechaine had previously sought a new trial in 2013 based on previous DNA testing that excluded him from the male DNA found in the blood under Cherry’s fingernail, as well as the results of testing that yielded multiple partial profiles but did not rule out Dechaine as a source.

The state argued that the thumbnail DNA might have been contaminated in the lab before preservation protocols were in place or that it might have been present prior to the crime. The courts agreed and determined that the evidence was too weak to grant a new trial.

Press Herald Staff Writer Jordan Andrews and Courier-Gazette Staff Writer Stephen Betts contributed to this report. 

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