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Maine farmer convicted in girl's 1988 killing says testing excludes his DNA from items at crime scene

Tracing family trees to catch killers
Inside the genetic genealogy being used to solve crimes 13:49

A Maine farmer convicted of killing a 12-year-old girl more than three decades ago launched his latest bid on Thursday for a new trial by trying to convince a judge that advances in DNA testing raise questions about his guilt.

The attorney for Dennis Dechaine called his first witness at the start of a two-day hearing in Knox County Superior Court. Dechaine is trying to make the case that tests conducted by a California laboratory excluded his DNA from several items found at the crime scene, requiring a new trial in which jurors could weigh all the evidence.

Prosecutors have contended plenty of other evidence links Dechaine to the crime and that his DNA could not be excluded from several other items.

Dechaine, 66, is serving a life sentence for the murder and sexual assault of Sarah Cherry, who disappeared while babysitting in Bowdoin in July 1988. Her body was found two days later.

1988 Killing DNA
Dennis Dechaine stands by a window in a conference room at the Maine State Prison in Warren, Maine, Wednesday, April 6, 2005.  Pat Wellenbach / AP

Dechaine's DNA was found on the murder weapon, his own scarf, which was used to strangle the victim, CBS affiliate WGME-TV reported.  But Dechaine's attorney told the court that DNA from blood under the victim's fingernails is not from Dechaine, the station reported.

"The murderer's blood is under the victim's fingernails. And the murderer's DNA is on the murder weapon, which is the scarf. The DNA under the fingernails is not Dennis Dechaine, it's the murderer's," said John Nale, Dechaine's attorney.

However, a car repair receipt and notebook belonging to Dechaine were found outside the Bowdoin home where the victim was babysitting before her abduction. Yellow rope used to bind her hands matched rope in Dechaine's truck, which was parked near the location where the girl's body was found.

Dechaine, who was 30 at the time of the killing, contends the evidence was planted while he was doing drugs in the woods.

The farmer from Bowdoinham has a fierce group of supporters who say he couldn't be the killer. They've pointed to alternative suspects.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court denied several previous requests for a new trial, concluding that there was sufficient evidence to convict Dechaine regardless of the updated DNA tests.

As Dechaine entered the courtroom on Thursday, he stopped and smiled at his brother and other family members, WGME reported. Cherry's parents and sister were also in the courtroom. Dechaine's family and Cherry's family declined to comment to the station.

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