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New DNA Evidence Raises More Questions in Dechaine Murder Case
10/11/2012   Reported By: Susan Sharon

New DNA samples recently tested in one of Maine's most notorious murder cases have come back from a lab in Texas with some potentially helpful results for convicted killer Dennis Dechaine. As Susan Sharon reports, the results are mixed, but appear to exclude Dechaine from a key piece of evidence.

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Recently, some items of clothing belonging to 12-year-old murder victim Sara Cherry, along with a scarf used to strangle her back in 1989, were sent for DNA testing for the first time. Defense attorney Steve Peterson is hoping that after all these years, advances in DNA profiling could help win his client, Dennis Dechaine, a new trial.

Dechaine is serving a life sentence for Cherry's abduction, sexual assault and murder. Preliminary results found DNA of three or more unknown males on the articles, which included Cherry's shirt and bra. The next step, just a couple of weeks ago, was to send a DNA sample from Dechaine for comparison by the lab known as Cellmark.

And now Peterson says those results have come back. "The item on which there's the best profile from this new DNA is the ligature - or the scarf. And on the scarf Dennis Dechaine is excluded as being the person's DNA."

Peterson says the DNA mixture on the bra and shirt were also compared with Dechaine's profile. "And I understand from the Cellmark report that Dennis Dechaine is not excluded on those two items."

But Peterson says just because Dechaine can't be excluded from those items doesn't mean he was a contributor. That's because the DNA profiles on the bra and shirt are weaker than the one found on the scarf.

"Now, in addition to all of this we also have taken the new DNA and compared it to some known samples that we have of alternative suspects," Peterson says. "And I can say that the DNA on the ligature, which excludes Dennis Dechaine, does not exclude at least one of those alternative suspects."

Peterson declined to name the alternative suspects or to say how he obtained the DNA samples from them. He referred additional questions to Dr. Greg Hampikian, a DNA expert who volunteers with the Idaho Innocence Project, and who has been hired to help with Dechaine's case.

Hampikian has also analyzed the results and says one thing stands out: "I can tell you there is more than one male contributor on that scarf. I believe there's three or more male contributors. If we look at all of the locations that are tested in the Cellmark analysis, the alternate suspect is included at all of those locations. Dennis Dechaine is not."

Hampikian says it's still possible that Dechaine's DNA could be on the scarf that is believed to come from his truck. But Hampikian says he expects the lab's final report will show that the alternate suspect is a much better match.

Deputy Attorney General Bill Stokes could not be reached for comment by airtime. Defense Attorney Steve Peterson says the next step in the case is to meet with the judge considering a motion for a new trial to discuss the latest findings.



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