Is Maine’s Criminal Justice System Corrupt?

A review of the book Human Sacrifice by James P. Moore By Peter Clifford

James P. Moore’s Human Sacrifice is an absorbing and challenging book about a sensational murder case, State of Maine v. Dennis Dechaine. Like any good story, Moore’s book is about more than one individual. It is a book challenging the very foundation of our complex criminal justice system: the integrity of the police, lawyers and judges who administer it.

Moore has a unique perspective. He is a retired law enforcement agent who worked for 25 years for the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms division of the U.S. Treasury Department, as Agent in Charge. He believes that convicted murderer Dennis Dechaine is innocent, the victim of a capricious and corrupt criminal justice system. He has written Human Sacrifice to explain why.

The actual facts of the case, as relayed by Moore, are gripping. In the first part of the book, he is a surprisingly good storyteller. This horrifying nightmare of a story is utterly fascinating, told in real time. The reader, in the early part of the book, is free to draw conclusions as the story develops.

The story begins on Wednesday, July 6, 1988, in the afternoon. Marjorie Roland returned to her house in Bowdoin, Maine from, at around 3:20 pm. She discovered that her 12-year old babysitter, Sarah Cherry, was missing. There was no sign of a struggle. Her baby, who Sarah was watching, was safe in the bedroom. Before the police were called, she picked up papers left in her driveway. She picked up a notebook and a repair estimate for a Toyota pickup showing the owner’s s name: Dennis Dechaine.

Around 8:30 p.m., 30 year old Dennis Dechaine was found walking aimlessly near the woods on a rural road in Bowdoin. A witness stopped his car to talk to Dennis, who was near the house of the witness’s relative. Dechaine looked “like he owned the place.”

When Dechaine was approached by the witness, he gave his real name, but lied about where he lived. He said he couldn’t find his truck. The witness and his wife, who were returning from their granddaughter’s softball game, played the role of Good Samaritans and offered to give him a ride to help him find the truck. He had no idea where it was. 45 minutes later, wanting to get back home to see a movie, they signaled for a deputy to stop, so that the police could take over the search for Dechaine’s lost red truck.

When Dechaine got into the cruiser, at around 9:30 p.m., the police, were already looking for him as a possible suspect in the abduction. Dechaine was with police officers from 9:30 until 4:20 a.m. He falsely told the officer that the keys were left in his missing truck, and that it was unlocked. (The keys at that time were in his pocket.)

Dechaine told the police he drove around all day, looking for fishing holes. He said he parked the truck, went into the woods to fish, and got lost.

He denied abducting Sarah Cherry. He admitted he might have been on the road where the abduction took place, after the police claimed he was seen there. He was not sure. He said the documents found at the scene of the abduction might have fallen from the front seat of his truck when he went to urinate in a driveway in the middle of the day. He didn’t know where the driveway was. He didn’t see a house.

At around 2:00 am, after the red pick up had been found, a canine was sent into the woods near the truck to search for the body. It appeared to have a scent. The dog crossed the roadway, but got distracted when a “deer scent” was picked up. The trooper also thought he heard a noise from a nearby deer at this time. The search was abandoned after the dog lost the scent.

Before being dropped off, Dechaine acknowledged that he had the keys, and that he lied to about his address to the good Samaritans. He agreed to allow the truck to be tested, and to give a polygraph “in a few days.” He had scratch marks on his body, a bruise on his bicep. His pants and shoes were wet.

When he got back to his house, he showed his wife marks on his arm from where he injected himself with amphetamines that morning. His eyes were dilated. “I kept asking myself: Could I have kidnapped a child? I can’t remember my day.”

Over the next few days, as he talked to his wife, Dechaine could remember only bits of what happened that day. He told her “ I have a feeling I might have done something awful while I was on that drug but I can’t remember. I can’t remember.”

Two days later, around noon, Sarah’s partially buried body was discovered in the woods only a few hundred yards from the location of Dechaine’s red pickup truck. Yellow plastic rope bound her wrists. She died of strangulation, with a dark blue bandana in her mouth. There were multiple small stab wounds. There were obvious signs of sexual abuse. A large pool of blood was found underneath her head. “Rigor mortis,” the temporary stiffening of the body that takes place after death, appeared to be “passing off.”

The rope used to tie Sarah Cherry was the same rope found in Deschaine’s red pickup. Dechaine’s house contained similar bandanas. However, there was no blood, hair or fibers in the truck.

When the police returned to Dennis’ home, shortly after the discovery of the body, his wife gave them the clothes that had been laundered, and several bandanas. She innocently told the detectives about a “teeny knife” on Dennis’ keychain. She was told by the officer it was missing from his keychain when they searched him. (Was this the murder weapon?)


While at Dechaine’s home during the search, the officers recorded that Dechaine made a number of admissions:

• … The real me isn’t like that.
• ….it must be someone else in me that’s doing this.
• …it’s not the real me.

Later, at the jail, Dennis said:

• If I had committed this crime, I was not in my right mind.
• I don’t know whatever made me do that.
• He sobbed: “I can’t believe it happened.”
• OhmygodwhydidIdothis.
• I told my wife I had done something bad and she just laughed at me.
• I told her I wouldn’t kill myself. Besides, that’s the easy way out.
• Something inside made me do that. Why would I do this?
• I didn’t think it happened until I saw her face on the news then it all came
• What punishment could they ever give me that would equal what I’ve
• I wished I had never gone down the road that day.
• Why did I let this happen?

Earlier, Dechaine had asked to speak to his lawyer. According to the state, these admissions were not in response to questioning.

Dechaine denied confessing to the crime at his trial. He doesn’t believe the admissions set forth above were quoted accurately by the police. There were no tape recordings of the admissions, and no writings.

If these devastating admissions were in fact uttered, it is difficult to fathom why there is such a large group of citizens calling for Dennis to be freed. Why do so many people believe he is innocent? Next month, we’ll look at Moore’s many criticisms of the State’s case.

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