PORTLAND, Maine — A lawyer sought Thursday to convince skeptical supreme court justices to grant another trial for Dennis Dechaine in the killing of a 12-year-old girl more than 20 years ago while a prosecutor accused the defendant of "perpetuating a fraud" with his continued claims of innocence.
Dechaine's lawyer told the justices they should order a new trial because DNA evidence from victim Sarah Cherry's fingernail pointed to someone other than Dechaine.
But Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber said the DNA evidence was inconclusive and doesn't stack up against all of the other evidence.
"The state introduced a mountain of evidence the jury concluded that the state had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Dennis Dechaine had killed and tortured Sarah Cherry," he said.
Dechaine, 57, is serving a life sentence for the murder and sexual assault of the girl, who was abducted while baby-sitting in Bowdoin. Her body was found two days after she disappeared in July 1988.
Over the years, Dechaine has maintained his innocence.
His lawyer, Steven Peterson, told the justices on Thursday that DNA from the victim's fingernail suggests she struggled with someone. "That person we now know is not Dennis Dechaine," he said.
But he also acknowledged that the partial DNA profile didn't match any of the alternative suspects either.
Macomber described the DNA that was recovered as a "low-level, degraded sample" that was probably contaminated over the years. He also said there were no defensive wounds to suggest the girl fought her assailant.
Several justices questioned whether the DNA evidence meets the "clear and convincing" standard for ordering a new trial. Justice Andrew Mead pointed out that the evidence suggests "some DNA evidence is inconsistent for the person for whom there's an enormous pile of evidence."
Other evidence pointing to Dechaine is plentiful.
Dechaine, a farmer from Bowdoinham, wandered out of the woods where Sarah's body was eventually found. A car repair bill bearing Dechaine's name was found outside the home where Sarah disappeared, and rope used to bind her matched rope from his truck and barn. Dechaine, then 30, told police he had been fishing but later admitted he had been injecting speed.
At one point during the hearing, Mead asked Macomber what was the harm of having another trial.
"The harm is sitting right over there," Macomber said, pointing to Debra Crosman, the victim's mother, Chris Crosman, her stepfather, and other family members who were in the courtroom.
The family said afterward that they have no doubt of Dechaine's guilt. "I hope I die knowing he's still in prison and will never get out," Debra Crosman said.
Peterson said he thinks the justices will give his client a fair shake. But he said he'll likely go to federal court if he loses his appeal to the state supreme court.
"This case isn't over and it won't be over until justice is done," he told reporters afterward. "The just result here would be a new trial."
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