Dennis Dechaine, convicted of the 1988 murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry, makes a bid for a new trial in 2012. Defense attorney Steven Peterson, left, is seated with Dechaine. Press Herald staff photo

The man serving a life sentence for the 1988 murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry will have his chance to argue for a new trial in April.

Dennis Dechaine, 66, will appear before Superior Justice Bruce Mallonee in Knox County Superior Court on April 18 and 19 to argue that new DNA testing results from November 2022 should merit a new trial.

Dechaine was found guilty of knowing or intentional murder in 1989 for Cherry’s killing.

Sarah Cherry was babysitting at a house in Bowdoin when she disappeared. Her body was found two days later in the woods 3 miles away, close to where Dechaine’s truck had been parked when he was picked up by police the night of the abduction.

Dechaine has always maintained his innocence, so when new DNA testing excluded him from three of the six crime scene objects, he argued he is entitled to a new trial under Maine law.

But Dechaine will still be limited in the evidence he hopes to present, according to court documents shared by the Courier-Gazette.


In his December order granting the hearing, Mallonee said that he only wants to hear from witnesses who will focus on the DNA evidence.

In order to get a new trial, Dechaine has to prove that the DNA results, combined with all the other evidence in the case, “would make it probable that a different verdict would result upon a new trial,” Mallonee wrote.

Further complicating the issue, Dechaine also has to prove that the DNA results could only have been discovered after his trial.

Mallonee agreed to let Dechaine’s attorney, John Nale, call on a DNA expert who can contextualize the test results, as long as Nale also calls on the expert in the lab who conducted the 2022 test.

Dechaine will not be allowed to call his former attorney from 1989 to testify, and the judge will not allow expert testimony about crime scene reconstructions.

Mallonee said that he only wants to hear from witnesses who will focus on the DNA results, and not those “who would only reinforce the arguments his current counsel will make.”


“Their testimony many not extend to ‘how could the case have been better presented in 1989?'” Mallonee wrote.

Nale had argued in July that the witnesses were a “crucial” part of the defense’s ability to show how the DNA evidence would result in a new verdict.

Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber argued that the witnesses would only offer sheer speculation. He didn’t object to a hearing to consider the DNA results.

Neither Nale nor the Office of the Maine Attorney General responded to messages Wednesday asking to discuss the hearings and their plans moving forward.

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